When looking for an MVP for the Rays, a number of factors have to be considered. How would the Rays perform without this player in the field or in the lineup? How much of a factor has the player been for the Rays? Where would the Rays be without this player?
With those thoughts in mind, it may be easy to think that either Ben Zobrist or Evan Longoria should be the Rays MVP. The case could certainly be made for either player – Zobrist was an All-Star and his versatility is a major factor in the Rays ability to get everyone in the lineup. Longoria leads the Rays in most of the Rays offensive categories, and has played an excellent third base this season. The case could also be made for Matt Moore, who has stepped up for the Rays and stepped into the role vacated by James Shields admirably.
Yet, Yunel Escobar may have been even more valuable to the Rays than anyone else this season. After a slow start to the season, Escobar has provided solid production at a position that had been a black hole in the lineup over the past couple of years. On the season heading into today’s game, Escobar has provided a .260/.334/.371 batting line.
Perhaps even more importantly, Escobar has solidified the shortstop position for Tampa. Last season, the Rays had to cycle through four different players at short before Zobrist was pressed into duty at the position because the Rays were unable to get any production from that spot in the lineup. Not only has Escobar hit, but he has been spectacular defensively. Escobar has seemingly made the great play become routine, and may well be in line for his first Gold Glove award.
He has also fit well within the clubhouse. Despite the problems that followed Escobar from Atlanta and Toronto, he has been a model citizen this year. His exuberance and flair have played well on a team that is willing to let Escobar be himself, and actually embrace that style.
At the start of the season, it may have been difficult to imagine that Yunel Escobar could be the Rays Most Valuable Player. However, with his all around performance this season, the case could certainly be made that Escobar deserves the award. Amazing how much of a difference a change of scenery can make.