Betancourt returns to Royals' infield

Betancourt returns to Royals' infield

Betancourt returns to Royals' infield
The Royals search for a utility infielder ended with a familiar face, as the club announced Tuesday that Yuniesky Betancourt had been signed to a one-year Major League contract.

The Kansas City Star reported that the contract was for $2 million with incentives that could raise Betancourt's salary to $2.5 million if he takes on a full-time role.

Betancourt, 29, hit .253 with 20 home runs and 105 RBIs over 222 games for the Royals from 2009-10 after being acquired in a trade from the Mariners on July 10, 2009. He played all 222 games at shortstop and has seen only nine games of action at second during his seven-year career, although the Royals have little doubt he will be able to move capably around the infield.

"All of our people, to a man, think it will be a simple transition for Yuni," Royals general manager Dayton Moore said of Betancourt's versatility, speaking during a Tuesday conference call. "His transfer skills, his on-target throws are very, very good.

"He will require a lot of repetition [at second base] during Spring Training. But he has been a middle infielder his whole career. The skill set is one where we feel comfortable allowing him to play multiple positions on the interior of the diamond."

Alcides Escobar remains the Royals starting shortstop, having hit .254 with four homers, 46 RBIs, eight triples and 26 stolen bases in 158 games last season. Escobar was part of the trade sending pitcher Zack Greinke and Betancourt to Milwaukee on Dec. 19, 2010, which also brought back outfielder Lorenzo Cain and pitchers Jeremy Jeffress and Jake Odorizzi.

Moore said Tuesday that manager Ned Yost plans to play Escobar 150-plus games in 2012, assuming Escobar stays healthy. With Johnny Giavotella and Chris Getz at second, that position has more competition and opportunity for Betancourt than shortstop.

"[Mike] Moustakas needs rest from time to time, especially against tough lefties," said Moore, pointing out Betancourt's potential usage at third. "Yuni fits us well and sets us up with quality depth if indeed we sustain an injury.

"As you know, that's our job. We expect good things to happen, but we have to anticipate the worst-case scenario. Yuni gives us that depth in case we do have an injury. We've been pretty public about our quest to find a middle infielder who can play short and second and is a right-handed bat, and play third.

"Yuni was one we targeted, but we were not sure how it would unfold at the end of the day," Moore said. "There were about four or five clubs pretty aggressive, but he had a comfort level here. Most wanted him for similar roles, a utility infielder who could play shortstop, and those types of players are not easy to find."

Betancourt, a career .268 hitter with 60 homers and 375 RBIs, hit .252 with 27 doubles, 13 homers and 68 RBIs as the Brewers starting shortstop throughout a memorable 2011 season in Milwaukee. Betancourt hit .310 with six RBIs in 11 postseason games.

Adding Betancourt certainly does not sound like the last offseason move for the Royals, who are still looking to strengthen their pitching staff "anyway we can," according to Moore.

"It's still a long time between [now and] Opening Day," Moore said. "We continue to search and do our work, make sure we explore every opportunity."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.