Over the last three seasons, the shortstop position for the Tampa Bay Rays has been a disaster offensively. With players the caliber of Jason Bartlett (after his complete fluke of a season in 2009), Reid Brignac, and Elliot Johnson receiving most of the playing time over the last three season, it is little wonder why the position has been so anemic offensively. While Ben Zobrist has done an admirable job at short over the past month, he may be needed in the outfield next season should B.J. Upton leave as a free agent.
The Rays system boasts of Tim Beckham and Hak-Ju Lee, two solid shortstop prospects. Lee, in fact, may be one of the top five prospects in the Rays organization. However, Lee may be a year or two away from the majors. Beckham, meanwhile, received playing time at second base at Durham this year, and may be required there in 2013. This would, seemingly, leave a hole at shortstop yet again for the Rays next season.
Enter Yunel Escobar. Escobar, who is presently in the midst of a three game suspension for writing a slur about homosexuals upon his eyeblack, is rumored to be made available this offseason by the Toronto Blue Jays. In his sixth season, the mercurial Escobar has already been been dumped by the Atlanta Braves due to his perceived lack of professionalism and lack of hustle. have the Blue Jays potentially given up on him as well?
Yunel Escobar is also an undeniably talented shortstop, both offensively and defensively. Over his career, he has a .282/.353/.391 batting line, with 53 home runs in 771 career games. He has also displayed a solid batting eye, with 290 walks and only 362 strikeouts in 3261 career plate appearances. This season has been a down year for him, but his line of .251/.295/.346 to go along with 9 home runs and 49 RBI is still better than what the Rays have gotten from the shortstop position. Defensively, Escobar ranks near the top in traditional fielding statistics such as fielding percentage, and is also prominent amongst the more advanced stats. Escobar ranks third amongst AL shortstops in range factor at 4.67, second in Total Zone Runs with 16, and fourth in defensive WAR, at 2.5.
Escobar is signed through next season at $5Million, with two team options for 2014 and 2015 at $5Million each. $5Million for a solid offensive shortstop with a little power and a good glove is not a lot, and would likely fit within the confines of the Rays payroll. Trading for Escobar would also have little risk. Should his disruptive tendencies continue, and/or Hak-Ju Lee is ready to take over in 2014, then Escobar would likely be permitted to walk. Otherwise, his affordable options would make him a player that can be built around over the next few seasons.
If nothing else, a potential trade for Escobar would provide the Rays with a bridge to Lee in the future. Escobar would also be a potential upgrade over the miasmal contributions from the shortstop position since 2009. Bringing in Yunel Escobar could very well make sense.