The Betemit Conundrum

If you go to the leaderboard, click on the advanced tab and set minimum plate appearances to 150, you’ll see something rather shocking, especially if you haven’t been paying attention to the Royals this year.

Justin Morneau, .447 wOBA
Miguel Cabrera, .446 wOBA
Josh Hamilton, .445 wOBA
Joey Votto, .435 wOBA
Wilson Betemit, .431 wOBA

Four guys who have played like MVPs this season… and a cast-off minor league free agent who only got called up from Triple-A at the end of May. Which of these is not like the other?

Betemit has been a monster for the Royals since joining the team, hitting .346/.425/.577 in 179 plate appearances. Small sample or not, it’s an impressive batting line. He’s walking and hitting for power, and as a former top prospect, it’s not unthinkable that he’s finally figuring out how to translate his tools into major league skills.

But his overall batting line is also inflated by a fluky .426 batting average on balls in play, which won’t last. Not that anyone thought Betemit was a true talent .346 hitter anyway. The secondary skills are nice, but he strikes out too much to hit for a high average, which is why ZiPS projects him as a .270/.333/.429 guy going forward.

The updated numbers makes him a roughly average hitter, maybe a tick better, which sounds about right for a guy with his skillset. He won’t keep hitting like this, but he’s still a useful player, even with his cover-your-eyes defense around the infield.

To me, however, the most interesting thing about the Betemit story is his potential arbitration case this winter. He’s been around so much that he had accumulated 4 years and 147 days of service before the season, so his time on the Royals roster this year will push him over the five year mark, meaning he’ll be arbitration eligible for the last time. And, given his performance, he’ll want a pretty decent raise.

Since he signed a minor league contract with the Royals during the off-season, Betemit is making the league minimum this year and the most money he’s ever made was the $1.3 million that the White Sox paid him last year. Even with his offensive performance, the fact that he’s only played a part-time role will limit who his agents can point to as comparable players, and he’s unlikely to file for more than $3 million.

The scnario puts the Royals in an interesting situation. He’s been a revelation for them this year, but even they know he won’t keep hitting like this. Further he’s still a brutal defender. The Royals also realize they have Mike Moustakas down in Triple-A. Moustakas is not quite big league ready, but there are reasons to think he could take the third base job next year.

For their situation, paying him a few million dollars in 2010 could easily just be a waste of cash. But non-tendering a guy who is coming off a year like Betemit’s seems untenable. They could try and trade him, but given his previous travels and likely raise, it’s unclear how many teams would actually want to give up anything for him.

It is feasible that Betemit could actually be playing himself out of a job. If he finishes the year with offensive numbers that resemble his current line, he might be too expensive for KC, and yet, his defensive problems and general lack of performance before this year could keep his trade value at a minimum.

It might just be in everyone’s best interests if he finishes the year in a slump. Take some of the shine off of his numbers and he’ll only be able to ask for a modest raise in arbitration, allowing it to make sense for KC to keep him around. Otherwise, they may have to consider non-tendering a guy coming off a career year.

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Dave is a co-founder of and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

20 Responses to “The Betemit Conundrum”

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  1. geo says:

    While I have serious doubts that the Royals will come out of spring training with Mike Moustakas playing third base, I don’t think they will keep Betemit around to do it either. I think they would prefer their stopgap to Moose to be Josh Fields, who has just returned from hip surgery. Moustakas will probably come along in late May or early June, keeping that service time down.

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  2. Bill says:

    Moore deserves credit for picking him up. Betemit is a once a heralded prospect that never lived up to his billing. This is exactly the type of guy the Royals should be taking flyers on. Maybe Moore is learning?

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    • JH says:

      Well, Betemit hit well on the Braves roster the last year Moore was in that organization. I think it’s more likely Moore was bringing in a guy who had played for him before who he liked than that he’s figuring something out.

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      • MJ in PDX says:

        I am pretty sure Moore signed him because he was a Brave at one point. The fact that he is producing means Moore will overpay for him in the offseason, most likely….I mean, look at Bloomquis t for example…millions of dollars on a two-year contract…

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  3. Erik says:

    “but even they know he won’t keep hitting like this”

    You sure? This is the Kansas City Royals we are talking about, right?

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  4. #6org says:

    almost as off as rating mariners the #6org

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  5. Boomer says:

    “It might just be in everyone’s best interests if he finishes the year in a slump.”

    Why would going into a slump be in Betemit’s best interest?

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    • James says:

      So he has a job? Did your read the post? The gist of it was that no one wanted him but the Royals (on a minor league contract at that), and the higher his arbitration number is likely to be, the less likely the Royals will want him for next year (or the less likely another team will try to trade for him). If he’s non-tendered, with his defense and consistency issues, he’s likely back on the street looking at another minor league contract or maybe the minimum salary.

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      • Ron A. says:

        This makes no sense. You’re suggesting that the Royals would be willing to pay him up to several million in an arbitration settlement but neither the Royals nor any other team in baseball would be willing to give him more than a minor league contract as a free agent. There is zero reason finishing the year strong should be bad for him–if no one is willing to pay him what he might get in arbitration he can always sign for less.

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      • Boomer says:

        Right. And since no one seemed to want him, the best way to ensure a job is to start playing worse? Come on, man.

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      • JH says:

        Arbitrators care much more about past performance than future projection. Betemit is almost certainly not a .430+ wOBA hitter, but an arbitrator won’t care. As such, his small sample success could push his arbitration pricetag up much higher than any rational GM would want to pay him.

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      • Ron A. says:

        Which is irrelevant because he’s free to sign for any price if he’s non-tendered.

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  6. Jamie says:

    Considering he’ll be 30 this fall and he was hitting a very Wilson Betemit-like .265/.358/.407 at AAA, non-tendering him seems like the way to go (unless you can put him through waivers right now and get something in return).

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  7. Dan In Philly says:

    Say what you want to about Betemit, but he’s made more money than I will my entire carreer and gotten to live the life of a pro ballplayer, to boot. I’d trade places with him, if he has a job next year or not.

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  8. DonD in Wichita says:

    Platoon him with Fields to start next season until Moose is ready in late May or so. Then you have two pretty good corner IF/OF utility guys coming off the bench with pop.

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  9. GoWSUShockers says:

    Sign him or not, they need pitching in the worst way. Greinke and Soria need massive help. Everyone else walks WAAAAYYYY too many batters, and when they do finally throw a strike, its right down broadway. Team to date: 53 wins. Soria: 35 saves. Thank goodness for The Mexicutioner or who knows how bad it would be. Suit up George Brett, Frank White, Willie Wilson, and the boys. Even in their 50’s, they could almost do better than this.

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  10. COroyal says:

    I feel dumber for having read this.

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  11. Brian Cartwright says:

    Well hopefully an arbiter would see that Betemit hasn’t had more than 200 PA in the majors in the last 4 seasons, many more games in Triple-A then MLB the last 2, and that averaging all his performances the past 4 years comes out around a .316 wOBA – in other words, he’s an utility infielder, despite getting hot for 50 games.

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  12. Paul says:

    Even if Betemit wins his $3 million, that’s what they paid Juan Cruz for 10 innings and two months. It’s 1/4 of what they paid Jose Guillen this year. It’s half of what they paid Farnsworth. In case you missed it, they have a two year old ballpark, the economy in KC is pretty good, and they are shedding payroll. This is one of the most pointless articles I’ve read on this site.

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