Not long ago, the Kansas City Royals signed young catcher Salvador Perez to a long-term contract. Shortly thereafter, Perez hurt his knee and was determined to be in need of surgery. Now the Kansas City Royals have signed young shortstop Alcides Escobar to a long-term contract. Based on a sample size of one, Escobar should get significantly injured any day now.
One's instinct is to say that the Royals are doing with Escobar what they did with Perez. By locking the players up now, the Royals give the players security while avoiding arbitration hassles and probably giving the team a bit of a discount. It's a pretty smart approach, or at least it seems to me to be a pretty smart approach - even though neither Perez nor Escobar are All-Stars, they project to be useful regulars, and those are good players to have signed and pleased.
What struck me when I was reading about the Escobar contract, though, was how similar it sounded to another contract. A contract that just recently expired - that which belonged to once-Royal and again-Royal Yuniesky Betancourt.
When he was with the Seattle Mariners, Betancourt signed a four-year contract with a fifth-year option that could eat up his first year of would-be free agency. This is how the contract was structured:
- $1.5 million signing bonus
- $1.25 million in 2008
- $2 million in 2009
- $3 million in 2010
- $4 million in 2011
- $6 million club option in 2012, with $2 million buyout
Now Escobar has signed a four-year contract with fifth- and sixth-year options that could eat up his first and second years of would-be free agency. This is how his contract is structured:
- $1 million in 2012
- $3 million in 2013
- $3 million in 2014
- $3 million in 2015
- $5.25 million club option in 2016, with $0.5 million buyout
- $6.5 million club option in 2017, with $0.5 million buyout
They're not exact replicas, but they're close. Betancourt began his four-year contract at 26. Escobar will begin his four-year contract at 25. Betancourt was guaranteed just a little more money, but the structures are undeniably similar.
It should come as no surprise that two guys at the same position with similar contracts are similar players. When Betancourt signed his four-year contract a year in advance, he had an 84 career OPS+ and a good defensive reputation. He didn't really walk and he didn't really hit for power, but he made contact and showed the potential for more. Escobar has a 72 career OPS+ and a good defensive reputation. He doesn't really walk and he doesn't really hit for power, but he makes contact and shows the potential for more.
At the time of signing, Betancourt was the better hitter. But Escobar is the better defender, so it cancels out, and maybe more than that, depending.
Why bring this up? For one thing, I think it's kind of interesting. Here's one guy the Royals just signed. Here's a guy similar to that player who was given a similar contract. That makes for a recent historical comparison.
For another thing, I guess this is cautionary. From the day he signed, Betancourt didn't get any better. If anything, he got worse. His offense plateaued. His defense slipped, and he lost his sterling reputation. He didn't put in enough work. You look at Escobar, and he should improve, but he might not. His OPS with the Brewers was .634. His OPS with the Royals is .633. If Escobar stagnates, the Royals are going to be frustrated, and that's a legitimate risk.
And for a third thing, well, maybe the Royals wouldn't be frustrated, because keep in mind they traded value for Betancourt after the Mariners grew sick of his uncoachability. The Royals thought and continue to think that Betancourt is better than most people figure. They might feel the same about Escobar. They might think he's terrific, now. They obviously believe he's a part of the core.
Alcides Escobar and the old Yuniesky Betancourt are kind of alike. The new Yuniesky Betancourt is going to be Alcides Escobar's backup. There's something here, more than I've been able to get into. Something more profound than I've touched on. Maybe I'll find it later. I'll let you know if I do.