Breaking News: Yunel Escobar Extension About to Happen

By Robbie Knopf

Update (Saturday, 4:55 PM): The Rays have announced the extension. It is for two years and $13 million with an option for a third year beginning in 2015. My source was indeed correct that Escobar’s extension was soon going happen. Keep reading below for the full story.

Update (Friday, 10:00 AM): It remains to be seen whether an extension is imminent, but extension talks have been confirmed by Marc Topkin.

Earlier today, the Tampa Bay Rays agreed to an extension with right-hander Chris Archer. As it turns out, that will not be all. A source just told me that a Yunel Escobar extension has also been agreed to, and we will hear about it soon. The amount of dollars and years are not yet available and the deal is pending a physical. Escobar changed agents from Praver/Shapiro to Miami Sports Management in recent days, and that could have had an impact on the extension coming together. Since extending Carlos Pena and Dan Wheeler prior to the 2008 season, the Rays had not extended a single veteran for a deal worth even $3 million a year entering this past offseason. Escobar will become the third veteran they have extended after David DeJesus and Ryan Hanigan.

Escobar, 31, has become known in his career for immaturity, something that ran him out of the Atlanta Braves and Toronto Blue Jays organizations despite his talent. The Rays acquired him from the Miami Marlins in December after the Marlins had gotten him in their blockbuster deal with Toronto, but after Escobar started the season just 4 for 50, it looked like they had made a grave error. Instead, Escobar finally got comfortable and delivered the type of season all of his teams knew was in him. Escobar hit to a .272/.348/.389 line in his final 528 plate appearances to end the year, slamming 28 doubles and 9 home runs while driving in 54. He joined James Loney as a contact-oriented player helping the Rays’ “swarming” offense run on all cylinders, striking out just 61 times against 53 walks. Defensively, though, was where he really shined. A Gold Glove finalist, Escobar made impressive play after impressive play, seemingly never failing to amaze every game he was out there. Known for defensive lapses, Escobar rarely if ever fell victim to them last season. Escobar reached his potential, and the Rays want to keep him around.

One interesting thing about this extension is how it will affect Hak-Ju Lee. The Rays already had an option on Escobar for next season, and no matter how long this extension is, Lee could become trade bait if he stays healthy and establishes himself at Triple-A Durham. The Rays decided that the sure quantity in Escobar was more worthwhile to have for the next few years than Lee and the questions surrounding him. An Escobar extension does not necessarily mean that Lee is out the door–the Rays were willing to bring Reid Brignac up as a backup until his chance came to start–but he will return to the field with something to prove.

The Tampa Bay Rays have become an organization synonymous with letting stars leave. From Carl Crawford to James Shields and everywhere in between, Rays fans have accepted the reality that their stars can only play in Tampa Bay for so long. Lately, however, the Rays have started to change that. Not everyone will be extended, but the Rays will seek every opportunity to give long-term deals to the players who deserve them. This Yunel Escobar extension is a major development for the Rays, and we have to wonder who will be extended next.