Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Yunel Escobar is scheduled to play versus the Toronto Blue Jays this Friday night after being on the 15-day disabled list since June 30. Although his defense last year was Gold Glove worthy, we must remember that his play was sprinkled with attitude inconsistencies, lack of hustle running to first base (a Joe Madden no-no), and enough flamboyance to cast him as the star in “Showboat: The Musical”! The question now is whether or not we will see a new, improved, and possibly humbled shortstop.
Escobar has more than proven his athletic talent on the field. Drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the second round of the 2005 amateur draft, his play was spectacular from the beginning with his first start with the Braves on June 2, 2007. His best year was 2009 where in the final 77 games he committed only 2 errors while hitting .299 with a career high 14 home runs. Since being traded to the Toronto Blue Jays on July 14, 2010, he has also proven his talent for flamboyance and questionable behavior. After receiving a contract extension from Toronto in June 2011 that was worth $10 million with options for 2014 and 2015, Yunel was photographed on September 15, 2012 with an anti-gay slur written in his eyeblack. He served a three game suspension, and was later traded to the Miami Marlins on November 19th of that year, who then traded him to the Rays on December 4th. This amount of major league travel for a player with good defensive statistics suggests trouble in the clubhouse. Seeing a player in the dugout during a game that sits totally alone where no other players speak or joke with him also suggests bad chemistry. Yunel Escobar is very fortunate to be playing for a manger of Joe Maddon’s tolerance and flexibility and was quite fortunate to get his two-year contract extension with Tampa Bay in April.
As we approach Yunel’s Friday return, his stats need to be examined. In the 2014 season, he has played in 77 games, hitting .244/.322/.328 (.650 OPS) and committing 8 errors. In 2013 he hit .256/.332/.336 (.698 OPS) and only committed 7 errors all year, all better marks than this season. Even more alarming is his drop off in UZR/150, which was a good 12.2 in 2013, but has been an awful -24.6 this season (small sample size does apply). Given Escobar’s past character issues, one has to wonder if the decline in his play is a result of him slacking off a bit after receiving a long-term extension at the beginning of the year.
A mystery is in store for the July 11th game against Yunel Escobar’s former team. It is hoped that players learn from a disabled list experience, recognizing that as you injure more often your career shortens and that you may at one point be working your butt of in AAA trying to get back to The Show. Let’s just hope that the DL trip was a humbling experience for Escobar, and let’s hope he can come back more motivated to perform than ever before.