CLEARWATER, Fla. — Yuniesky Betancourt snared a line drive in the ninth inning Sunday and turned it into a double play for his final act as a Phillie. Six minutes after the final out was recorded in a 7-6 loss to Boston, Betancourt slipped on red shorts and walked to Charlie Manuel's office.
He emerged a free agent four minutes later, destined for a job elsewhere in the majors.
"It was a very difficult decision," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "He played great for us. We had some other guys feel great, and we’re comfortable with where we are as far as those players are concerned."
The presence of Freddy Galvis and Kevin Frandsen made Betancourt superfluous. They would have loved to retain Betancourt as depth at triple-A, but the veteran exercised his contractual right to ask for his release.
The Phillies could have kept Betancourt and constructed a bench with three reserve infielders. The outfield would have been thin with one reserve until Delmon Young returns from ankle surgery.
A few bench spots are unsettled with a week until the season commences in Atlanta. Humberto Quintero and Steven Lerud are competing to be the backup catcher. Rule 5 pick Ender Inciarte has never played above single A but could make the roster as the fifth outfielder.
Two baseball sources said the Phillies are seeking catching and outfield upgrades for the bench. It is possible the 25th man comes from outside the organization.
The average age of the Phillies' starting infield is 34.3 years old. The team believes Galvis and Frandsen provide suitable insurance.
Charlie Manuel revealed his preference one day before the Phillies' first full-squad workout. He said he envisioned Galvis playing in 60 or 70 games. With pinch-hit appearances, that could amount to 300 at-bats in the majors.
"Does he help us giving us 300 at-bats here, or 500 at-bats in the minor leagues?" Manuel said Feb. 15. "I say being on our team, getting 300 at-bats [is the choice]."
For a team with suspect defense, sending its best defensive player to triple A was not an ideal scenario. The way Manuel spoke all spring, it was never even a possibility. Galvis, who fractured his back last June and was suspended 50 games for steroid use, has displayed an improved power stroke. Eleven of his 18 hits this spring are for extra bases.
He expanded his versatility to include third base and right field. All of those factors helped the 23-year-old Venezuelan win a bench role.
Frandsen and Betancourt are similar in that they are reserve infielders known more for their bat than glove. The Phillies had already committed $850,000 to Frandsen, who had no minor-league options left. Betancourt's advantage was his ability to play shortstop, although his proficiency there has waned. He could have made as much as $1.4 million with the Phillies had they purchased his contract.
From 2007-11, only Derek Jeter played more games at shortstop than Betancourt. But Betancourt's .288 on-base percentage was the second-lowest in the majors among all players with at least 2,000 plate appearances during that span.
Betancourt pushed his name into consideration with a torrid spring. He hit .447 (21 for 47) with a 1.025 OPS in 51 plate appearances. That will probably earn him a major-league job, just not in Philadelphia.
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