I was thinking about the Royals today, as I often do (I'm a Mariners fan, so the Battle for Grass Creek is obviously front and center in my mind as my team officially slips out of contention), and an interesting question occurred to me: who's worse at his job, Yuniesky Betancourt, or the GM who traded for him?
Let's start with Dayton Moore. His shortcomings are well documented around here, but I'm willing to look past his record in previous years and focus just on 2009. After all, GMs are people, and they can learn from their mistakes and grow as human beings as well as professionals. This year, Moore acquired the following players through trade or free agency: Crisp, Farnsworth, Jacobs, Cruz, Betancourt, Bloomquist, Ramirez, Wright, Waechter, and Ponson (let me know if I'm missing anyone - this isn't the team I follow most closely). The total cost of those players (including a pro-rated deduction for Betancourt for the roughly half-season the Ms picked up his tab) was $21.74 million. Between the ten of them, they've combined for a whopping 1 win above a replacement-level player.
To be fair, I'll point out that Coco Crisp accounted for the vast majority of the WAR total, and looked to be a resounding success of a pickup before going down to injury, and there was significant reason to believe that Juan Cruz would be much more valuable than he's been. However, it's a rare circumstance where there are enough mitigating circumstances to excuse spending over $20 million for a single win above replacement, when the market price for that same value out of a single player has floated between 4-5 million the past few years. That rate of return on his pickups to supplement the '09 squad is beyond awful. More alarming has been the kind of player he's gone after. Farnsworth, Bloomquist, and Jacobs were moves for players who each cost significantly more than the league minimum who had virtually no upside to speak of.
Onto the player Moore acquired that seems to have forever sealed the argument of which team can boast the title of Worst GM in baseball in the post-Bavasi era. Yuniesky Betancourt may have his talents, but there is ample evidence at this point that baseball isn't one of them. After a couple of seasons as a productive yet frustrating player, Betancourt discovered the glory of the buffet table, surrendering what little value he once had as a league average defensive shortstop. As his offensive value withered to nothing, Betancourt went from defensive prodigy to the worst gloveman in the league at the position in short order. After an awful -12.1 UZR last year, he's set to take his awful defense to new heights this year, already costing his two teams 10.6 runs more than a league average defender at his position. In past years, his ability to make contact kept his offense at acceptable levels, but this year his .256 wOBA is third-worst among all hitters in the majors who've logged more than an arbitrarily-chosen 250 plate appearances.
Add it all up, and Betancourt is a full 1.4 wins WORSE than a typical replacement-level player. In other words, the difference over a full season between Betancourt and a random triple-A shortstop is GREATER than the difference between that random triple-A shortstop and a league average major leaguer. Replacement level is calculated such that a team full of replacement-level players is supposed to be able to win ~45 games. A team full of Betancourt-level players and a replacement-level pitching staff would win about 18-20 games.
So, who's worse? The guy whose offseason moves operate at about 20% of the rate of efficiency as the market at large, or the truly awful player he acquired in his latest debacle?
Personally, I go with Betancourt. For all of Moore's failures in acquiring any player that costs even a reasonable amount of money, he hasn't been awful at evaluating pitching talent. Soria was a major win, as was Bannister. Davies was a good idea, even though he hasn't been as successful as anyone would like. On the offensive end, Moore seems to be lost, which is really troubling given how precise the metrics are in gauging the value of different offensive skills. Moore's claim that Betancourt is a good defensive SS is just baffling to anyone who had to watch Yuni play the past 2 years. In Moore's favor is the fact that he seems to be decent at one thing: evaluating pitching talent. Valuing it and figuring out how to acquire that talent at a low cost is another question entirely (4.25 million for Kyle Freaking Farnsworth?!?!? When you already had an elite closer on staff?!?!? I digress). Betancourt, on the other hand, is good at absolutely nothing.
Alright, I'm done analyzing it. You decide.