Thursday, July 15, 2010

Braves and Blue Jays Swap Shortstops

The last week and a half sure has had its share of surprises. Cliff Lee ended up in Texas where few of us ever expected to see him go. And now the Braves have dumped Yunel Escobar, their once promising shortstop, on the Toronto Blue Jays for Alex Gonzalez. The trade had other parts which we'll get to in a minute. But, first, let's try to figure out just what happened here.

First, this isn't about defense. Gonzalez is solid, but Escobar is a really good shortstop. Escobar has Gonzalez on fielding percentage, range and efficiency. Plus, he's a heck of a lot younger.

Secondly, this isn't really about offense, or at least it shouldn't be. Escobar is having a bad year at the plate. In his first three years with the Braves, the former second round draft pick (2005) has posted OPS+ totals of 118. 103 and 116. This year, he's at 70. Ugh! Escobar usually averages around 11 homers a season and around 66 RBI. He doesn't strike out much and usually has good OBP. In fact, this year, he's walked more than he has struck out. But he just hasn't been hitting. His .234 average is by far the worst in his career. His .337 OBP is also the lowest of his career. And he hasn't hit a single homer thus far. His slugging percentage is a turgid .284. Ouch.

On the other hand, Gonzalez is having a productive season. He's surprisingly hit 17 homers and added 25 doubles. But before we get all giggly over his offense, his batting average is only .259 and his OBP is under .300. Gonzalez has walked only 17 times all season. His current OPS+ is sitting at an impressive 112 almost entirely because of his slugging percentage of .493, by far the highest of his career. In fact, his 112 OPS+ is the first time in his long career that Gonzalez has been over 100...ever. His career average is 81. So you can't really expect his performance to continue and if it does, it's certainly an outlier.

So if Escobar's defense is better and his career batting is better, why did the Braves make this trade? Well, it may be that they see something in Gonzalez is doing that leads them to believe he's suddenly turned himself into something he hasn't been his whole career. That's possible. But it doesn't smell right.

The Fan has the sneaking suspicion that either Escobar has fouled by Bobby Cox or by his teammates or both. All of that means that the Blue Jays are taking a chance that they can get Escobar to fit in somehow and turn him around. That's slippery though, right? The Blue Jays also got Jo-Jo Reyes, a good arm that hasn't figured out yet how to get big league hitters out and the Jays gave the Braves two middle of the pack prospects who rank 17th and 19th in the Jays prospect pecking order.

No, the Blue Jays are trying to accumulate a future with young players and they had to feel that Escobar has the tools to be a great player and he does. But he is 28 and this should be the time when he is peaking and he isn't. Perhaps Escobar will freshen up with the change of scenery. Perhaps Gonzalez will continue his outlier with the Braves. But the take here is that the Braves tired of Yunel Escobar and took the best shortstop a non-contender could offer. This has all the earmarks of a cancer removal.

1 comment:

Josh Borenstein said...

I think you're 100% right about the trade. Escobar has been in Bobby Cox's doghouse before, and I've read he doesn't have the best attitude in the world. The Braves wanted him to make adjustments with his stance to try to pull the ball more, but he refused to listen to them. A change of scenery will probably do him good. Cox wants to win NOW, and Gonzalez is a much more impactful player right NOW.