Just minutes after Sunday’s thrilling 7-6 win against the first-place Texas Rangers, the Royals designated veteran infielder Yuniesky Betancourt for assignment.
By JAYSON JENKS
The Kansas City Star
The move came as a surprise, especially considering Betancourt started Sunday at third base.
Yet it was manager Ned Yost’s message, not the announcement itself, that held the most weight. The short: Betancourt made it known he wanted more playing time, and the Royals made it known that’s not what the club is going to be about.
“We have been living in a losing culture here for many, many years,” Yost said. “We cannot get over the hump. In order for us to get over the hump, we have to have 25 guys that are solely invested in one goal, and that’s turning this organization around to become a champion. That’s it. It’s not about, ‘How much do I play?’ It’s not about, ‘Do I have a job?’
“This is about 25 guys with one goal: That we’re going out to try to win this baseball game tonight, and you have that goal night in, night out. Anybody else that’s not on page with that, we will never change our culture. It’s about 25 guys who respect each other, 25 guys that have the same common goal. That’s how we’re going to turn this losing culture into a winning culture.
“And Yuni did a great job for us, but he was a guy that wanted more playing time. He would get upset when he didn’t, but (Chris) Getz was playing good. There were just situations. We’re trying to win the ballgame, and we’re going to put the best team on the field every day.”
Betancourt and Getz platooned throughout April with Betancourt starting 14 of the first 22 games. But he suffered an ankle injury and missed nearly all of May. When Getz was out because of an injury most of June, Betancourt became one of the club’s most reliable run producers.
Getz returned with a consistent bat in July — and therefore played more — while Betancourt’s average kept falling. After going zero for four Sunday, Betancourt’s average dipped to .228.
Yet, according to Yost, Betancourt continued seeking more playing time. Betancourt said the move didn’t catch him by surprise. He now has 10 days for the Royals to trade him or release him before accepting a minor-league assignment.
“I’m really just going to take my mind and wait for this 10 days to go by,” he said through teammate and close friend Brayan Pena. “I’m going to be ready. I can play every day, but if nothing happens, I’m pleased with that and have to live with it.”
Pena said, “It’s very painful for me because he’s one of my best friends. I grew up with him ever since we were nine or 10 years old. But I know that Yuni understands this is baseball, and this is the way the game goes.”
Beyond the move to release Betancourt is something else: The Royals sent a message that players need to fall in line with the goals of the team. The individual must come after that.
The Royals are far out of contention — they are 12.5 games back — but veteran outfielder Jeff Francoeur said this a trying time for inexperienced teams.
“When you have a bunch of young guys, a young team, it’s tough when you start losing,” Francoeur said. “Guys get frustrated, and it can become about yourself and not about the team. Ned had a little meeting with us, and I think the players talked amongst ourselves and said, ‘There’s no room for that. We have two months left, 60 games, to play hard and to be a team and to have all the guys pulling for each other.’
“That was fun (Sunday). Truly, everyone was so excited when we won. We fought today. We battled. This is the type of team, the game we played today, that I envisioned back in spring training. And I think most of us did.”
In a corresponding roster move, the Royals announced they would select Class AAA Omaha infielder Tony Abreu to fill Betancourt’s spot and serve as a utility man.
Abreu hit .322 with 36 doubles and 73 RBIs in Omaha, and Yost said the Royals want to see what they have in Abreu.
But more than anything, this move was about a message to move the club in the right direction.
“We’ve got to make sure that if we’re going to change our culture,” Yost said, “we have 25 guys who are invested in what we’re trying to do.”