When Chris Getz retired, a symbol of Royals futility went with him

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

"If at first you don't succeed, try, try again" is a time-honored phrase, but not even it explains the Royals' four-year-affair with second baseman Chris Getz.

Second baseman Chris Getz retired last week. Though he was only 30, having been designated for assignment by the Blue Jays and gone unclaimed, he decided to take his glove and go home. "I've enjoyed every minute that I've played and will always be passionate about the game," Getz told our Chris Cotillo. "I'm starting a family, and I'm interested in other endeavors both inside and outside of the game." Journeymen players hang ‘em up every day without anyone taking notice, but Getz's case is special. An era has ended.

The Royals' Getz era is something like the half-century the White Sox spent asking "Who's on third?" Teams sometimes go years without being able to find a long-term solution at a position. In their first 25 years, the Mets went through third basemen so fast that only two players -- Wayne Garrett and Hubie Brooks -- accumulated even two seasons of career games at the position. The situation was so bad there's even a song about it. Between Bucky Dent (defensive specialist) and Derek Jeter (offensive specialist), the Yankees ran out a different shortstop almost every season for 15 years, some of whom you'd swear that they found misfiled in the back of the "four ratty Archies for a dollar" bin at the comic book store.

There are times when the inability to find a player represents no more than a sustained stretch of bad luck. The Yankees also had problems finding a regular first baseman after 1939 or a catcher after 1979, but the players involved either figuratively or literally died, and it's hard to plan ahead for moments like that. Players suffer from nervous breakdowns and vanish (think of the great Cubs shortstop Charlie Hollocher or the Indians first baseman Tony Horton), get drunk and walk off of open drawbridges, and kill themselves by drinking carbolic acid. You cope as best you can. No one can say you're not Branch Rickey if you fail to react well to an act of God.

Conversely, sometimes deciding to punt on a position year after year really does represent the incompetence it seems to imply. During the aforementioned White Sox third-base wanderings, they lucked into the odd good player (a couple of good years of Bill Melton, say), but mostlythey just kept turning the position over to some random guy and hoped that, as a very old song had it, they'd find a million-dollar baby in a five- and ten-cent store.Sometimes they would try a player, he'd fail miserably, and they'd wait a year or two and then try again. Maybe something had changed. Some players suddenly blossom at 29, don't they? No? How about 31? This wasn't the only reason the White Sox failed to win a championship for close to 100 years, but it's a reason, a symptom of a greater disease.

Today teams have fewer excuses than those White Sox teams did. In the age of farm systems, free agency, and international signings there really isn't a valid excuse for refusing to attack problems aggressively. And yet, there is the Royals and second base, a saga that began circa 1990 and shows no sign of ending anytime soon. And yes, we'll get to Omar Infante.

Frank White was with the Royals from 1973 to 1990 and was the starting second baseman for most of that time. The most successful product of a baseball academy run by the Royals in the early 1970s with the intention of taking random kids and turning them into ballplayers, White didn't hit much -- he was a career .255 hitter with occasional power who took ball four as a personal insult -- but he was a genius with the glove. "His range," The Scouting Report: 1983 said, "makes people blink." I know that was meant as a compliment, but I've spent an hour now trying to decide if it's more suggestive of an irritant, like dry-eye, or an infection like conjunctivitis. Either way, as White said in 1978, "I know I'm valuable and that's all that matters." Visibility was optional.

With White fading in 1990, the Royals gave a shot to "prospect" Terry Shumpert -- prospect in quotes because he hadn't hit anything at all in the minors to that point and, other than one of the great fluke half-seasons with the Rockies in 1999 (he hit .347/.413/.584 in 92 games, including .407 at home), he never did. He didn't work out, and from then on, it was pretty much soup of the day in terms of second basemen. Don't worry; I'm not going to give you a day-by-day recap of 25 years of failed Royals second basemen, but consider the leaders at the position through the end of last season and the amount of turnover in the top 20 players. Twenty may seem like a lot, but there are some names here that will make you say, "Oh, yeah. I forgot they tried him." This is a list that makes people blink.

Rk

Player

G

From

To

PA

BA

OBP

SLG

1

Carlos Febles

506

1998

2003

1892

.250

.328

.354

2

Jose Offerman

415

1996

1998

1825

.306

.385

.419

3

Mark Grudzielanek

336

2006

2008

1432

.300

.339

.412

4

Chris Getz

332

2010

2013

1124

.248

.305

.295

5

Alberto Callaspo

317

2008

2010

1241

.293

.343

.426

6

Terry Shumpert

252

1991

1994

731

.212

.269

.338

7

Jose Lind

250

1993

1995

880

.258

.286

.311

8

Keith Lockhart

232

1995

1996

771

.291

.333

.437

9

Tony Graffanino

203

2004

2006

781

.274

.349

.374

10

Keith Miller

157

1992

1995

614

.258

.325

.348

11

Ruben Gotay

130

2004

2005

483

.242

.297

.355

12

Luis Ordaz

126

2000

2002

291

.228

.285

.256

13

Johnny Giavotella

120

2011

2014

451

.238

.275

.334

14

Jed Hansen

87

1997

1999

208

.256

.342

.375

15

Elliot Johnson

79

2013

2013

173

.179

.218

.241

16

Jeff Reboulet

66

2000

2000

212

.242

.325

.280

17

Edgar Caceres

55

1995

1995

130

.239

.291

.350

18

Emilio Bonifacio

42

2013

2013

179

.285

.352

.348

19

Donnie Murphy

39

2004

2005

115

.163

.228

.269

20

Omar Infante

30

2014

2014

134

.267

.326

.392

A few of these guys had good seasons. Jose Offerman had an excellent offensive year in 1998 (.315/.403/.438). Mark Grudzielanek did the singles thing he was so good at from 2006 to 2007. There were sporadic outpourings of offense from time to time, but in the roughly quarter of a century since White called it a career, the Royals have had one five-WAR season at second (Offerman), a couple of threes (Grudz), a half-dozen give-or-take 2.0s and a whole lot of replacement level. Depending on what you consider a passing grade in that regard, they've probably failed at second about 75 percent of the time.

Jose_offerman_1998_mediumJose Offerman in 1998, his best major-league season by far. (Getty Images)

Getz was part of that -- again and again and again. Developed by the White Sox, Getz hit a bit in the minors, including .302/.366/.448 in 111 games at Triple-A Charlotte in 2008. He was 24. That looks good, in a superficial way, but he was a contact guy without a lot of patience or power playing in a hitter's park. He also broke his wrist at the end of the season, and there's no way of knowing if that changed him at all. Baseball America also noted that he had a questionable arm and hadn't mastered the double-play pivot. The Sox gave him a chance in 2009 and he responded with a 73 OPS+ in 107 games. That fall, in a trade that was an orgy of busted prospects, Chicago sent Getz and Josh Fields to the Royals in exchange for Mark Teahen.

The Royals were coming off of about a year and a half of Alberto Callaspo hitting pretty well for them while playing second and wherever else they felt like stashing him on any given day, but they had gotten the idea that he should be their every-day third baseman, a decision that was probably mixed up in their figuring out what to do with Alex Gordon. They were also dubious about his range and there was a DUI incident at one point, so off he went to the Angels for a couple of pitchers, Sean O'Sullivan and Will Smith, the latter of whom is present pitching well for the Brewers after being dealt there this past winter in return for Nori Aoki.

Getz, as was predictable, didn't hit and also had some injuries, so the club patched with Mike Aviles, who did -- but periodically would default back to Getz, because, you know, they had traded for him.In baseball, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again" can often be a bad idea. Getz was the Opening Day second baseman in 2011. He didn't hit. That meant periodic injections of Aviles, but basically Getz was allowed to keep the job while hitting .255 with a .288 slugging percentage until August, at which point Ned Yost decreed that the Day of Johnny Giavotella had arrived.

Giavotella, 23, had been hitting about .330 for his last 250 minor-league games. There were questions about his defense, but still, .330 is .330. He didn't hit nearly that well in the majors, so the 2012 Opening Day second baseman was Chris Getz. Well, correction -- he was meant to be, but he was dealing with an oblique strain, so he was in and out of the lineup for awhile. His replacement was Yuniesky Betancourt, who was SO MUCH BETTER.

I just totally lied to you. As FiveThirtyEight.com likes to say, "This article contains many errors, some of them fundamental to the analysis." This is true, though: Getz had trouble staying healthy in 2012. He was placed on the 15-day disabled list three different times due to running into fellow players, falling over fire hydrants, piano movers dropping baby grands on him -- just everything. Sometimes that meant it was Giavotella time again. He was still hitting .320 at Triple-A, but all that earned him was a day or two of playing time before Irving Falu, Tony Abreu, or Betancourt was in the lineup (prospects listed here: none), and whenever they could pry Getz off the stretcher he was back out there. Thumb surgery finally ended Getz's season in August, and Giavotella played a lot, but he failed to hit and as the season headed into its last weeks, Yost had given up on him -- when you're sitting for Irving Falu, that is pretty much the picture-book definition of a girl who is not going to reconsider your proposal -- and I say that knowing that the Royals lucked into 91 decent plate appearances from Falu.

Mark_grudz_medium

Mark Grudzielanek once had 54 doubles and an OPS+ of 81 in the same season. Isn't that neat? (Getty Images)

By now, Getz was a career .255/.310/.301 hitter for the Royals, with zero (0) home runs in 254 games. It is hard to hit zero home runs nowadays; even Ben Revere will pop one eventually. Getz would eventually add one more to his career total of three, because on Opening Day 2013, there he was again. I'm going to stop there, because the 2013 season is like the "Rocky V" of Royals second-base movies, only with Miguel Tejada as a ghostly Burgess Meredith and a great deal of Elliot Johnson. It actually ended well, with the Royals getting surprisingly solid play out of Emilio Bonifacio after buying him from the Blue Jays. Getz was still around at that point, hitting .216/.284/.286 at the moment Bonifacio was acquired. He still played quite a bit for awhile after that -- the Royals preferred to put Bonifacio in the outfield -- because there was still the faintest hope Getz might pan out. By this point, they had earned the right to do whatever they wanted, given that the whole organization is a Dadaist painting anyway.

Giavotella spent almost the entire season in the minors, because calling him up would have been cruel. He wasn't hitting .330 anymore, but he was still more productive than Getz (his defense continued to draw the kind of reviews that are usually reserved for snuff films) and one wonders if he slumped because he had just given up. You can only send a guy down -- or bench him for a Falu -- so many times before he learns to take the hint.

Yes, they were on their way to going 86-76 and playing winning baseball for the first time in a hundred years, but imagine what they could have done if they had just stopped defaulting to a guy who couldn't play at second base? Just to forestall the inevitable comments, Getz can play major-league baseball 1000 percent better than you or I can. He just can't play it compared to major-league baseball players. His glove, depending on whose stats you look at, was playable. His bat never came close. The overall package was a losing combination. Limit your population to second basemen and 1500 or more plate appearances, and Getz ranks just outside the10-worst offensive second basemen of all time and was definitively the worst of this century -- though Darwin Barney may yet give him a run for his money.

This is what bad organizations do. They try the same stupid things over and over again, unable to receive a new idea even if their hair is parted by an ax. At the end of last season, Getz finally reached free agency. Somehow the Royals did not re-sign him. The Blue Jays did, because they knew that Ryan Goins could field but not hit and they figured some kind of backup plan was probably worthwhile. That turned out to be Brett Lawrie, and recognizing Getz for what he was, an emergency parachute with a big hole in it, they let him go.

As for the Royals, they released Bonifacio, which is kind of a defensible move -- even hitting .302 for the Cubs (as of this writing) he's still a mediocre player -- after signing free agent Omar Infante to a four-year $30.25 million deal. That's not defensible. Second basemen at ages 32-35 are usually causes for clinical depression, and Infante is the kind of player, with his impatience and weak power, who has to hit close to .300 to be a contributor. He probably won't; he largely hasn't. He's presently on the 15-day disabled list with a sore back, which is the kind of thing that is sometimes transient and sometimes limits you for the rest of your life.

The Royals' starting second baseman is now Johnny Giavotella. He's now 26. He was hitting .352 in 100 PAs at Triple-A Omaha. Ned Yost is still the manager. Pray for the Giavotella's soul. He is in hell. As for Chris Getz, he picked up about $3.3 million in his career and as long as he invested it in something other than Blackberry we probably should feel happy for him. He got more of a shot than most players do, and more chances than he would have had in a smarter organization. It's not the Hall of Fame, but it's something special... And it's a fitting monument to the Dayton Moore era in Kansas City.

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