For the better part of the offseason, Royals general manager Dayton Moore articulated the club's need for a veteran utility infielder. The Royals, Moore said, needed someone to back up Alcides Escobar. They coveted a right-handed bat to spell Mike Moustakas against tough left-handed pitching. And they desired a measure of insurance against the possibility of injury.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Royals unveiled their man: Former Royals shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt.
(What? You were expecting someone else?)
Betancourt, who will turn 30 on Jan. 31, signed a one-year, $2 million deal that will allow him to serve the Royals' immediate utility needs.
The money could escalate to $2.5 million if injuries force Betancourt into full-time duty. But for now, the plan is to have the right-handed hitting Betancourt back up Escobar, spell Moustakas, and compete for playing time at second base. The deal also positions Johnny Giavotella and Chris Getz to battle for the second-base spot, with the loser having options to start the season at Triple-A Omaha.
"Yuni is somebody that we had targeted... ," Moore said. "There was about four or five clubs (interested in Betancourt). Most of the clubs wanted him for a similar role, to be a utility guy that could play shortstop. And those types of players are not easy to find."
The Royals were believed to be interested in veteran shortstops Edgar Renteria and Orlando Cabrera, but club officials suggested that Betancourt proved to be the right fit heading into 2012.
Betancourt has played 948 of his 957 career games at shortstop — the other nine came at second base in 2005 — but the Royals are confident that Betancourt will be able to handle playing time at second and third, as well as a part-time role.
"I think that's something he's going to have to come to grips with," Moore said of Betancourt's limited role. "Careerwise, he's about a .275 hitter against left-handed pitching with a .420 slugging percentage, so that gives him some advantages with a left-handed pitcher.
"Certainly, he can play some short. And we feel that Yuni could be a very good second baseman, and he'll get an opportunity to compete there with the understanding, 'Don't expect to be the opening-day second baseman.' "
So this was how Betancourt was re-introduced to Kansas City, a pre-holiday double take that came nearly one year to the day after the Royals parted ways with Betancourt for the first time.
On Dec. 19, 2010, Betancourt was packaged with right-handed ace Zack Greinke in a blockbuster trade with the Milwaukee Brewers.
In exchange for Betancourt and Greinke, the Royals acquired Escobar, center fielder Lorenzo Cain and right-handed pitchers Jeremy Jeffress and Jake Odorizzi from Milwaukee.
Betancourt batted .252 with 13 homers and 27 doubles for the Brewers in 2011, helping the club to the NL Central title. The Brewers, however, decided not to exercise a $6 million option on Betancourt for 2012, making the shortstop a free agent.
Now he's back, returning to the Royals' infield, albeit in a different role.
"It sets us up with some quality depth if indeed we sustain some type of injury," Moore said. "And that's our job; we gotta think worst-case scenario. Expecting good things to happen, but we gotta anticipate worst-case scenario. And Yuni gives us that depth."
Rockies sign Cuddyer, Blake —Outfielder Michael Cuddyer signed a $31.5 million, three-year contract with the Colorado Rockies on Tuesday.
The 32-year-old Cuddyer, a career .272 hitter, spent 11 seasons in Minnesota before agreeing to a free-agent deal with the Rockies late last week. He was the Twins' All-Star representative last season.
The Rockies also added free-agent third baseman Casey Blake, pending the completion of a physical. Blake, a former Wichita State star, has agreed to a one-year, non-guaranteed deal worth $2 million, with $1 million in available performance bonuses.