A few things have happened in recent days that are probably completely unrelated. The Los Angeles Dodgers designated shortstop Erisbel Arruebarrena for assignment, but they have not yet traded him or exposed him to waivers. Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Rays have signed middle infielder Asdrubal Cabrera yet have not made the move official.
We talked a few days ago about how a delay in Cabrera’s signing could mean that a trade is coming. Could that trade involve Erisbel Arruebarrena and the Dodgers? There is a scenario where that could make sense, although there are a lot of moving parts involved.
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Arruebarrena is in a tough spot in his professional baseball career. He was signed to a five-year, $25 million contract by the Dodgers last offseason, but the new Dodgers regime has clearly soured on him as they were willing to designate him for assignment. Arruebarrena’s contract seemed questionable even at the time–he had never been considered even an average hitter–and is any team in baseball willing to pay him the money he is owed?
Although Erisbel Arruebarrena is still talented, he will likely go unclaimed through waivers because of his contract. He is now a prospect–and not even a topflight one–who is due to receive $22 million over the next four years. To trade him, the Dodgers would have to pay some of that money, and even then, they would not get much in return.
The Tampa Bay Rays are one team that would be hypothetically interested in Arruebarrena if the price is low enough. The reason is that their shortstop position has its questions, both for now and the future. Yunel Escobar collapsed defensively in 2014, and while he can’t possibly be that bad with the glove next season, the Rays may be better without him than with him.
If the Rays trade Escobar, Ben Zobrist could become their starting shortstop and playing time would be opened up for rising young players like Nick Franklin and Steven Souza. The move would make the 2015 Rays more exciting. There is one gaping flaw with that plan, however: Zobrist is set to leave as a free agent following the year, and the Rays would have no good option to replace him at shortstop.
The Rays’ best upper-levels shortstop prospect is Hak-Ju Lee, but he is coming off knee surgery in 2013 and a train wreck of a season in 2014. There is no guarantee whatsoever that Lee will be big league-ready when Zobrist leaves. Without him, the Rays’ best remaining option at shortstop is Franklin, whose questionable defense there makes him better suited for second base or the outfield.
Can the Rays really trade Escobar when their future situation would be that uncertain? That is certainly a valid question, but acquiring Arruebarrena could make it more plausible. Arruebarrena has his flaws, but he is an excellent defender at shortstop who was a solid enough hitter at Triple-A last year. With another year in the minors, he could be ready to become a starting shortstop.
The Rays would certainly not pay all of Arruebarrena’s contract, but say $15 million of the $22 million over the next four years looks more reasonable if they are trading away the $13 million that Escobar is owed the next three years. With that in mind, if the Dodgers pay say $7 million of Arruebarrena’s contract and Escobar is part of the deal, a trade could work.
Of course, since the Dodgers already have Jimmy Rollins as their shortstop, we need to add a third team to the mix. Teams that could use Escobar at shortstop include the Oakland Athletics, San Diego Padres, Miami Marlins, New York Mets, and (ironically enough) the Philadelphia Phillies. Since the A’s actually claimed Escobar off trade waivers last August, let’s use them in our example three-team deal (which is basically two separate trades).
Tampa Bay Rays trade OF Yoel Araujo to Los Angeles Dodgers for SS Erisbel Arruebarrena and $7 million.
The last time Escobar was traded after a down year with up to three years of team control remaining, he netted a solid middle infield prospect in Derek Dietrich. Pinder doesn’t have as much power as Dietrich, but makes up for it with better defense, including the ability to play some shortstop.
This time, though, Escobar’s value is low enough that the Rays would have to throw in a middle infield prospect of their own, Querecuto, to even out the package without throwing in money. Querecuto plays a good defensive shortstop and shows a good ability to put bat on ball, but he still needs to find a way to make harder contact.
For the Dodgers, on the other hand, they save $15 million of Arruebarrena’s contract, and they do get a prospect with incredible power potential in Araujo. Araujo does come with extremely high risk, but the Dodgers can’t ask for much in exchange for Arruebarrena at this point. It’s either a prospect with no upside, or one with major uncertainty.
The Dodgers want to get Erisbel Arruebarrena off their hands while the Rays could use a shortstop prospect that would allow them to trade Yunel Escobar. This scenario would only make sense if the Rays regard Arruebarrena highly, but at least it is something to keep in the back of our minds as we wait to see what both teams will actually do.