The Signing of Yunel Escobar and Its Impacts

Although it looks small on the surface, the extension of Yunel Escobar to an extension has many implications that need to be disected. His contract calls for a $5 million salary in 2012, the same amount in 2013, and the club holds $5 million options for 2014 and 2015. All-in-all, the deal can cost the Jays as little as $10 million for 2 years, and up to $20 million for 4 years if they pick up both options. (all figures used courstey of Cot’s Baseball Contracts) Here are those that I have come up with (feel free to add your own in the comments):

Aaron Hill‘s Time With the Jays Ending?

Whether they meant to or not, the Toronto Blue Jays sent a serious message to Aaron Hill as they signed Yunel Escobar to a 2 yr (+ 2 options) contract extension. The truth of the matter is that unless the Jays plan on having one of Aaron Hill, Yunel Escobar, or Adeiny Hechavarria as their DH in the near future, one of them will be gone in 2012 or 2013. With Aaron Hill’s contract options (team options) coming due after this season, where the Jays can pick up 2 years of service from Hill at $8 million a season, it seems that he is most likely to be the odd man out. The question to me now becomes this: will Aaron Hill be traded, or will the Jays let him walk post-2011 and garner 2 draft picks (since he is likely to qualify as a Type A free agent)?

Yunel Escobar Set to Move to 2B?

Escobar will turn 29 this November and the deal he just signed could take him to 33 years old if he completes all options years as a Jays player. Although he is a fit individual, his range will surely be getting smaller over that time, so it only makes sense that the Jays explore the option of having Adeiny Hechavarria come up playing the position he’s always player, short stop, and to move Escobar to 2B. Besides, Escobar has made 6 errors this season and has seen his dWAR rating go down from a high of 2.2 in 2009 to 0 so far in 2011. Sure, he could keep playing SS adequately over this time, but with Hechavarria’s excellent range and youthful speed, that doesn’t seem to be the best option available to the Jays.

The question for the Jays becomes this: if they do decide to move Escobar to 2B when Hechavarria is ready, but he isn’t ready by the beginning of 2012, who takes over 2B or SS? That will obviously depend on how the Jays assess Hechavarria’s progress at the end of the year. If they deem that he is very close to being ready, then they can come up with a short-term option that can step in and become a great bench option if and when they call Hechavarria up. But, it also indicates that if the Jays believe that Aaron Hill can regain his form and that he can build up good trade value as a result, they may pick up both of his options and see how things play out in 2012. If Hechavarria forces their hand with great play in AA or AAA, they can decide who they want to move where. They’ll have the Escobar ($5 million) and Hill ($8 million) combination to offer up to other clubs, and since the Jays don’t have to deal with no-trade clauses, they can decide who is the more attractive trade piece to whichever club they’re dealing with.

Flexibility seems the be the key word here. If they keep Hill around at a price the Jays can definitely afford, they have more options available to them. As I said above, the Escobar signing seems to indicate that Hill no longer fits into the long-term plans of the Jays, but it doesn’t mean that he won’t be around in 2012. With Hechavarria only managing a .232/.259/.361 line so far in 2011, he isn’t exactly tearing down the door to The Show. The few positives of his 2011 season include the fact that 25 of his 66 hits have been for extra bases, that he has hit .321 against lefties, and that he has only struck out 45 times in 285 ABs. He’s making progress, but he’s not ready for The Show yet.

The Cuban Connection in 2012 or 2013?

Even if the Jays do pick up Aaron Hill’s 2012-2013 options, there will likely be an all-Cuban middle infield in Toronto at some point. The simple fact that Yunel Escobar and Adeiny Hechavarria are both from Cuba and can communicate well with one another in the middle infield makes their working together that much more attractive for the Jays. If they can get Hechavarria acclimated to MLB pressure with the help of Escobar, who can take him under his wing while speaking the same language – no need for an interpreter – then they have a much better chance of getting him to be effective at a quick pace during the early part of his career as a Jay.

Final Take

The Jays didn’t sign Adeiny Hechavarria for $10 million out of Cuba to have him spend many years in the minors. They thought he would move quickly and would take over as the SS for years to come. They didn’t sign Escobar with team options all the way through 2015 for no reason either. Whichever way you like to look at this situation, unless Aaron Hill comes on and really turns it on from now to the end of the year, I really don’t see him in the long-term plans of the Jays. It seems likely that the 2012 infield for the Jays – at least at some point in 2012 – will become Adam Lind (1B), Yunel Escobar (2B), Adeiny Hechavarria (SS), and Brett Lawrie (3B). Unless Lawrie comes up and has a horrible time at 3B, which would make Hill an option at 3B and Lawrie a LF, I really don’t see him remaining a Jays player past 2012. Whether or not the Jays decide to sign and trade him, or just let him go after the 2011 season, is the only question I have left. A lot of that seems to depend on what he does from here through September, so it’s still a developing situation.

What do you think?

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– MG

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Tags: Aaron Hill Adeiny Hechavarria Yunel Escobar

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