Update: Danny Knobler is reporting the Rays are closing in on a trade that would net them Yunel Escobar for Derek Dietrich.
Oct. 22: According to CBS Sports‘ Jon Heyman, the Toronto Blue Jays will look to trade Yunel Escobar this off-season. Toronto has apparently grown tired of Escobar’s immaturity; an unpredictable outcome, seeing as how the Blue Jays acquired Escobar after he fell out of favor in Atlanta.
Aloofness and general character concerns aside, Escobar is an above-average player on both sides of the ball. He has a career line of .282/.353/.390 in just over 3,300 plate appearances. Escobar tends to hit for a solid average and while he doesn’t have a ton of power, he is generally able to produce a solid number of doubles. The ability to extend his swing allows him to hit the ball to all fields, though most of his power comes to the pull side.
When Escobar isn’t putting the ball in play, he shows a willingness to walk. Typically selective at the plate, Escobar took a more aggressive approach this season, which coincided with a down year in production.
Escobar is a steady defender with a strong arm. There was concern when Escobar was rising through the Braves system that his relative lack of speed would hurt him defensively. Those concerns have been eased by years of solid defensive play on the strenghth of reliable instincts and sure hands. The one big knock on Escobar is his focus, or lack thereof. A defender can make 99 out of 100 plays, but if he suffers a poorly-timed mental lapse he’ll never live it down.
The down side of positive arbitrage—the practice of acquiring assets for less than market value—is how the targets tend to have flaws. This can be age, a history of injury, recent poor performance, character concerns, or a combination. Escobar, 30 this offseason, has age and durability on his side. But he is coming off a poor season with a history of aloofness—including a regrettable incident involving a message written on his eye black. These issues are nothing new, just know that they may not disappear.
The Rays have shown a willingness to give second—and sometimes third and fourth—chances in the past. In fact, Tampa Bay was rumored to have interest in Escobar when he became available in 2010. In recent seasons, the team has acquired players like Willy Aybar, Matt Bush, and Josh Lueke despite off-field transgressions. Comparatively, Escobar’s non-criminal issues appear minor.
Considering his ability on the field, as well as his contract status (one year guaranteed at $5 million with two club options for an additional $5 million each), Escobar fits the Rays’ mold. As an everyday shortstop, he would allow the team to move Ben Zobrist back across the diamond to second base or even give him a more permanent home in the corner outfield. And because of his checkered past, the Rays may be able to get him at a price that is lower than his true value.
Intra-division trading is uncommon, and sometimes difficult. If the Jays are serious about moving Escobar, and are willing to accept pennies on the dollar, then the Rays may have no choice but to pursue the shortstop.