Despite a down year, Yunel Escobar was claimed by the team with the second best record in baseball, the Oakland Athletics. Of course, there are mitigating circumstances involved–Jed Lowrie was hurt, forcing the A’s to use the less-than-ideal combination of Andy Parrino and Eric Sogard at shortstop. Nevertheless, teams see potential in Escobar and would love to acquire him at a favorable price and watch him perform at an above-average rate. Exactly there, though, is where the problem lies: Yunel Escobar is a great reclamation project acquisition, but not a player for whom a team would be willing to pay market value.
Yunel Escobar has now signed two team-friendly extensions. The same is true of fellow Ray Evan Longoria, but Escobar’s long-term deals have reached the point of insanity. Escobar was 28 years old and two years away from free agency when he agreed to his two-year, $10 million extension with the Toronto Blue Jays. Escobar was comfortable there, as we later heard regarding him and the Rays, but for what would have been his first two free agent years, Escobar simply received two $5 million options. That is entirely ludicrous. We live in a world where platoon players like Jonny Gomes can get a two-year, $10 million contract on the free agent market. Yunel Escobar, at his best, is an above-average major league starting shortstop. Sure, he liked Toronto, but he believed in himself so little that he was unwilling to take a tiny risk and see what he could get on the open market?
The reality for Escobar is that there are only certain places where he can play, and once he arrives in one of them, he never wants to leave. If the Athletics and the Rays had managed to agree to terms, Escobar would have gone from a fourth-place Rays team on the fringes of relevancy to a legitimate World Series contender in the A’s. Yet Escobar’s agent felt the need to comment that Oakland would not be the best place for Escobar. Who would ever say that? We are not talking about Escobar going to a place like New York or Boston where many players simply can’t take the pressure, simply a team like the A’s that shares plenty of similarities with the Rays. In addition, it is not as though staying in his favored place guarantees any sustained success for Escobar. Even when Escobar has found has supposed comfort zone, his performance has remained inconsistent nonetheless.
Yunel Escobar has been a productive offensive player just twice in the last five years. His defense had made him a productive player nearly every year anyway because his defense, but even that has faded this year. There is a reasonable chance that Escobar will rebound, but there is no switch that goes on just because he’s playing under Joe Maddon and would otherwise be off.
The good news for the Tampa Bay Rays is that if Yunel Escobar is playing to his ability, they will be getting him at a major bargain rate. Unfortunately, if he does not perform, a team will never give the Rays a fair offer because Escobar may not be willing to join their team and because there is no guarantee of anything even if would be happy with them. Inconsistent players certainly exist in baseball, and teams take chances on them knowing the possible reward. But Yunel Escobar might as well have a no-trade clause because there are 15 or 20 teams if not more that he is unwilling to go to and that limits his trade market significantly.
Expect the Rays to get a few trade offers for Escobar this offseason, but it is exceedingly unlikely that they will receive a good enough package to actually deal their starting shortstop. Their best move is to stick with Escobar and hope he finds his form again because if they decide to trade him, they will not receive more than a fraction of what he is truly worth.