It is more than a little curious that the Tampa Bay Rays gave up Yunel Escobar in addition to Ben Zobrist in their trade with the Oakland Athletics yesterday. It seemed like the Rays had to keep one of them–after all, they were the top two shortstops on their depth chart. However, maybe the Rays believe in Nick Franklin‘s ability to man the position, and maybe they have had enough of Escobar after his rough 2014.
Just before they began contending in 2008, the Rays deemed it worthwhile to trade away two talented players with terrible attitudes: Delmon Young and Elijah Dukes. Are the Rays doing the same thing with Yunel Escobar right now?
The Rays have become known for taking so-called distractions in the clubhouse and helping them get their heads in the right place. However, much of that came from Joe Maddon and now the Rays have Kevin Cash at manager. The Rays may not want to subject Cash to such difficult personalities right off the bat.
The fact that the Rays would shy away from a player like Escobar is no affront to Cash–as we just said, the Rays did the same thing to help Maddon in 2008. Cash will certainly create his own clubhouse culture, but it makes sense to let him worry about in-game decisions, getting everyone their at-bats, and not too much other craziness.
Of course, Escobar’s attitude is not the only reason for concern about his future. The Rays’ biggest issue with Escobar may be that his defense dropped off significantly in 2014. In one season, he went from a Gold Glove finalist and a consensus plus defender to the worst defensive shortstop in baseball. We didn’t even know that was possible until he pulled it off.
Escobar’s defensive debacle could have also had something to do with his attitude–maybe he lost focus as the Rays struggles through a disastrous season. There is a chance that Escobar will head to Oakland and be just fine defensively. On the other hand, Escobar is 32 years old and it makes sense that he has truly lost something in the field.
Escobar cannot possibly be as bad defensively as he was in 2014, but he faces a lot of pressure to be a great shortstop and that may not be possible. Escobar was still decent at the plate last season, but especially given his terrible baserunning, he cannot be even an average starter at short without better-than-average fielding. The Rays think that he will not get back there, and if that is the case, it made sense to move on.
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Finally, we have the money factor. Escobar is owed $5 million in 2015, $7 million in 2016, and either $7 million or a $1 million buyout in 2017. That would seem like a reasonable rate on the open market, but we are talking about a Rays team with a limited payroll. Between the risk evident in Escobar from his attitude and defense and the alternative they have available in Nick Franklin, the Rays were no longer so enamored with those dollar figures.
At the end of the day, the Tampa Bay Rays certainly did not part with Yunel Escobar for nothing, but they also had no qualms trading him along with Ben Zobrist. There is a chance that we will hear in a few months that the A’s have “fixed” Escobar, just like people said about the Rays and Toronto Blue Jays at various points, but the Rays are reasonably confident that keeping Escobar was not worth their while.