The Assassination of Johnny Giavotella by the Coward Dayton Moore
(Or another buy low candidate for Alex Anthopolous)
Heading into the off-season, there are 3 obvious holes that the Blue Jays will need to address before the season starts next April. One is in the rotation, another is in Left Field, assuming Anthony Gose doesn’t prove he can stick, and the last is at the keystone, where Kelly Johnson’s horrendous 2nd half slump means he certainly won’t be back next season. If you look at the free agent crop this off-season its especially poor, where the top two names available will likely be Freddy Sanchez of the Giants, and Johnson himself. Neither of those excite me in the least, so in order to address that position Anthopolous will need to get creative.
Throughout his tenure as the Jays general manager Alex Anthopolous has routinely targeted players who have talent, but for one reason or another have fallen out of favour with their current club. He did this with Yunel Escobar from the Braves, again with Brett Lawrie in the Shaun Marcum trade, and most recently with Colby Rasmus after he’d fallen out with Tony LaRussa.
Another player who fits that bill perfectly is Royals 2nd base prospect Johnny Giavotella. After being a 2nd round pick in 2008, Giavotella exploded in 2010 in AA Northwest Arkansas, finishing 6th in batting average with a .322 average, to go with a terrific OBP (.395), and Slugging % (.460). He followed that breakout season, by posting even better numbers the next year at AAA in Omaha (.338/.390/.481), even earning a promotion to the majors in August. However, like many young players getting his first taste of the big time, he disappointed despite getting regular at bats over the last two months of the season hitting just .247/.273/.376. This was evidently enough for the Royals to completely sour on him as a player, despite the fact they’d invested a high draft pick in him.
Even though they had Giavotella seemingly ready to step into the lineup, and a perfectly acceptable fallback option in Chris Getz, in one of the strangest moves of the off-season the Royals decided to block Gio’s progress by bringing back Yuniesky Betancourt. Betancourt had spent the better part of two seasons as the Royals starting shortstop, and had been massively disappointing, managing to combine atrocious defense, with one of the worst OBP’s in the league both years.
After getting to the Brewers to take his poor contract in the Zack Greinke trade, the Royals brought him back seemingly as the utility infielder, and gave the starting 2nd base job to the decidedly average Getz out of spring training. The reason they gave was that Giavotella’s defense needed more seasoning at AAA before they were ready to commit to him. With the Royals seemingly making a push to win this season, these decisions make some sense, as going with the 28 year old Getz was presumably safer than risking the unproven Giavotella.
They did give Giavotella a brief shot in May when Yuni hit the DL, but despite hitting the ball very well (31% Line Drive rate), hit into a lot of bad luck, and when Betancourt returned he was sent back down. At this point in the season, the Royals had already gone through a 12 game losing streak, and had already lost starters Danny Duffy & Felipe Paulino to Tommy John surgery. All pretences of winning this season had gone out the window, but they continued to let Giavotella rake down in the minors, where he’d already proven he could defeat. Keep in mind, that the reason they had given Getz the job out of spring training was reportedly because of his defensive acumen, but now not 2 months later, they were turning to Yuni and his atrocious glove.
It really dawned on me how much the Royals had soured on Giavotella until this week, when they finally cut ties with Yuniesky Betancourt. It should be noted that this team is so poor at evaluating talent, that it wasn’t Betancourt’s poor defense that led to him being cut, nor was it his .256 OBP that got him cut. Rather it was his poor attitude, lack of willingness to accept a reduced role. Anyway, with Yuni’s spot on the roster coming open, that seemed to give them another great opportunity to give Giovatella an extended look to close out the year. Again they are turning to Getz, and because they need a backup shortstop (despite Alcides Escobar playing all but 2 games at short this year), they called up 27 year old Tony Abreu.
At this point, the Royals have screamed from the rooftops, that we don’t want Giavotella, and have effectively killed any real trade value he has. Despite hitting .335/.401/.488 in almost 900 AAA plate appearances, this year alone they’ve chosen to give playing time to Yuniesky Betancourt, Chris Getz, Irving Falu, and now Tony Abreu instead a promising 24 year old former 2nd round pick. This has all the makings of someone that Anthopolous could swoop in and get on the cheap.
This isn’t to say that Giavotella is a perfect player. He does have defensive deficiencies, and has disappointed in his very brief major league stints. Despite all that, Giavotella still has the type of bat that inspires alot of faith, especially given how weak the alternatives at 2nd base are this off-season. I’m not sure if the Royals and Blue Jays could work out a deal, especially given that both teams most pressing need is in the starting staff, but if something could be worked out, and I think it could, then he could be just the low cost alternative that could plug the 2nd base hole next year, and for years to come.