Revolving Door At Third Continues To Turn For Royals

Third base is traditionally called the “hot corner,” but lately the Royals have been treating the position more like a hot potato.

What now seems like years ago, it was just nine months past that Alex Gordon was entrenched as the Royals third baseman. While he’d had his struggles hitting and staying healthy, the Royals had to hope Gordon would man the position for the next decade. That’s what you expect from the second pick in the draft.

Now Gordon’s home is in left field, and it may be a part-time or temporary home at that. With the signing of Melky Cabrera, Gordon’s hold on the outfield spot is tenuous at best.
The Royals made two moves at the winter meetings to bolster their outfield as they brace for a rocky 2011 and build for 2012 – the additions of Cabrera and Jeff Francouer. While those two signings caught the headlines, however, third base remained a situation of addition by confusion.

A broken finger on March 6 forced Gordon off third base, and he would never return. A revolving door opened at the position and has yet to stop turning. The Royals further muddied the waters in the past 10 days by declining to resign Josh Fields. Then Ned Yost stated publicly that he sees Mike Aviles, primarily a middle infielder, as the possible next in line at third.

It is generally assumed that whoever starts the season at third base will merely be keeping the spot warm for slugging minor leaguer Mike Moustakas. Yost is reluctant to admit that Moustakas will have a shot at making the big club in spring training, but most reports are that if all goes according to plan, Moustakas will be in KC sometime later in 2011.

The non-signing of Field came as little surprise. No one put much faith in him from the moment he came over from the White Sox with Chris Getz in the Mark Teahen trade – Teahen himself once a Royals third bagger. Fields had struggled with injuries and inconsistency at the plate. I personally had high hopes for the former OSU Cowboy quarterback, hoping he could at least man the spot for another year until Moustakas was sufficiently seasoned.

But evidently no one else saw what I hoped was there in Fields. His departure went essentially unnoticed. That left Wilson Betemit, who played well enough in 51 games at third, seemingly the incumbent.

Not so fast, according to Yost. In a statement to the media on Dec. 7, Yost touted Aviles as the likely choice at third. The implications of Yost’s statement are broad.

First, it means Betemit will probably see spot duty at several positions, including outfield. Yost believes the strain of playing every day wore Betemit down last year, and coming from the bench Betemit gives Yost a right-handed bat to shuffle into the deck, But Yost’s statement also implies that Betemit can probably kiss goodbye his one shot at being an everyday major league starter.
Second, it means Yost intends to give Chris Getz every opportunity to hold onto the second base job. Getz has thus far been a light-hitter, which means Yost intends to actually do what he said he would do a year ago – place a premium on good defense.

And third, it means Yuniesky Betancourt is the Royals’ shortstop for the foreseeable future. Aviles would have been Betancourt’s only competition. Maligned for poor situational hitting, lackadaisical effort and poor range (among many other things), Betancourt exceeded the low expectations everyone had for him last season. In light of his numbers from 2010, he probably deserves an encore in 2011. And if Aviles is at third, then Royals fans had better warm up to Yuni. He’s going to settle in for what looks like a long haul.

So, exit Teahen (changed position, then traded) Gordon (changed position), Alberto Callaspo (traded to the Angels), Fields (unsigned) and now Betemit (apparently demoted to a utility role).

Enter Mike Moustakas? Not yet, apparently. According to Yost, yet another option is coming to the fore – it’s Mike Aviles turn to try to handle the hot potato that is the hot corner in KC.

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