Jays Journal Features: The Yunel Escobar Rumours
By Mat Germain
It’s a little ironic that Yunel Escobar was acquired, along with Jo-Jo Reyes, in return for SS Alex Gonzalez, RP Tim Collins (now with KC) and Tyler Pastornicky, a fellow SS who is beloved in the locker room and is noted for having players pull for him to do well. It’s ironic because the exact same thing that drove the Atlanta Braves to deal Escobar to Toronto at the time, is reportedly the same reason the Jays have made him available in trade. Well, that and the fact that Adeiny Hechavarria seems ready to assume the SS position in Toronto.
Until Pastornicky proves that he is able to become an everyday SS in the majors, it’s easy to call this trade a win for the Jays, particularly when you know the past struggles the Jays have had in filling the SS position. Escobar’s .276/.341/.378 over his 3 years in Toronto is much better than anything the Jays had prior to Escobar’s arrival. The problem is that the production doesn’t really match his talent, and that he has reportedly worn out his welcome in Toronto as well through a lack of focus.
You do have to question why the Jays ever signed Escobar to an extension if he really was a clubhouse issue. The Jays, or an acquiring team, still owe Escobar $5 million in 2013, and still have 2 team option years for 2014-2015 at $5 million a piece as well. What that contract tells me is that the Jays were more than happy with his clubhouse presence at the time of the signing. He signed that contract in mid-June 2011, so if the reports are true, he has worn out his welcome in Toronto over the last full year, and immediately after signing that contract.
That brings me to 2 trains of thought. Either Yunel Escobar isn’t happy in Toronto and wants out, or, he’s not happy with his contract and is sabotaging it so that whatever team has control over the option years doesn’t actually pick them up. After all, if a player like Johnny Peralta will make $6 million in 2013, and a player like Erick Aybar will make $8.5 million over the 2014-2015 time frame, why wouldn’t Escobar want to try the FA route.
There’s also the possibility that his ego in Toronto has been bruised by the talks surrounding the promotion of Hechavarria. Maybe the Jays have already approached him about moving to 2B and he has been entirely against it, deciding instead to “shut down” both on the field and in the club house. Or, it’s also possible that the fact that many fans are calling for Hechavarria’s promotion has angered the proud Escobar.
Whatever the case, he just doesn’t seem to have his head in the game of late. Don’t get me wrong, he has good spurts and has actually been better overall defensively, despite lapses in judgement. His .980 fielding percentage is a career high, as is his 4.80 RF. Therefore, if the Jays try to play the production of the field defensively card, they’re out of luck. Only his output with the bat and attitude on and off the field could be the cause of making him available on the trade market – again, if that is in fact accurate.
The strange thing is that the Jays seemed to be asking Escobar to take on a leadership role amongst Latin American players at the time of his contract signing. Everything seemed to be rosy, and most people who were watching Hechavarria coming up the ranks believed that there would come a day when the Jays would have an entirely Cuban middle infield once he arrived. That may be unlikely if reports are true that the Jays have made Escobar available. What is true is that from what most of us have observed on the field and in videos of the clubhouse, Escobar seems to be more and more isolated and unhappy. Appearances can be deceiving, but that’s what most have observed.
The key, in my eyes, in dealing Escobar would be whether or not a team would assume the risk of taking on his $5 million owed in 2013, and whether the team would do so while providing the Jays with reasonable returns. The Jays, or more specifically Alex Anthopoulos, doesn’t like to make deals without getting a reasonable return that would make the Jays better for the long-haul. And as much as people can speculate about Escobar and his perceived clubhouse reputation, the Jays are not going to simply give away a SS who has Escobar’s talents at a reasonable salary.
Adeiny Hechavarria is hitting .321/.361/.430 in Las Vegas, although nobody really knows how well that will translate to the majors since the PCL is a notoriously hitter friendly league, particularly in Vegas. He has 31 extra base hits, including 6 HRs, and 60 RBI through 457 PA.
If you’re wondering about the possible target for the Jays, word on the street is that the Jays “have interest” – what a hilarious statement – in Brett Anderson. He’s a 24-year old big lefty that has had injury issues and has only thrown 6 innings in 2012 as a result, so I’m not sure that makes him the optimal target. However, since his issues were elbow related – and not shoulder related – it’s entirely possible that the Jays interest in the lefty is for real.
Whatever the returns end up being if the Jays do deal Escobar, they will likely not include a SS coming to Toronto, meaning that the team would be forced to play either Omar Vizquel or Adeiny Hechavarria at the position. Ahhh, and there comes the final piece of the puzzle. Is there some urgency to deal Escobar on the Toronto front because of these 2 factors? First, you have Hechavarria being ready in AAA, showing off his glove, range, and bat as well as his youthful energy which would blend very well with the Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus types in the clubhouse. Second, you have the very best mentor on the bench in Omar Vizquel, a player-coach who could help Hechavarria through the initial steps required in getting comfortable in the majors. With Escobar’s leadership in easing Hechavarria into a regular role no longer a necessity, that could make him a trade possibility.
For his part, Escobar has stated that he wants to remain in Toronto and enjoys playing there. I’m not certain that he’ll get his wish. With 2 GMs who really like to make deals in Billy Beane and Alex Anthopoulos chatting about a possible deal and seemingly matching up, on paper, it’s likely that they’ll come to terms on a deal. They’ve completed deals in the past, and it’s entirely possible that they’ll bring in a 3rd team to make a deal happen, just as Oakland was involved in the Roy Halladay deal by sending Brett Wallace to Toronto for Michael Taylor once the deal was completed. They’ve completed a few other deals since then as well, showing good relations overall between the 2 squads and GMs. Other possible landing spots include Miami (if the Jays complete deal for Jose Reyes), Pittsburgh (to replace Clint Barmes), and Milwaukee (to replace Cesar Izturis).
The Yunel Escobar trade rumours will not go away until the trade deadline passes and he remains the Toronto Blue Jays SS. At this point, nobody can say for certain where he’ll be dealt, if anywhere, and it’s still more likely that the rumours are inaccurate, as the Jays continue to make deals that nobody was talking about prior to them being made. However, I will say that if the Jays were to include an arm in the deal, such as Brandon Lyon – an experienced and reliable reliever that the A’s could use in the pen as they chase the playoffs, it could make things interesting. All I’m saying is that there’s definitely the possibility of some common ground between the 2 squads.
If I were asked to place a bet, my gut feeling would have Escobar heading to one of the teams I listed above and Hechavarria taking over at SS. What I couldn’t even begin to make a guess about is what Anthopoulos is looking for in return if Escobar is dealt.
Only Alex Anthopoulos and his close knit inner group knows that. It’ll be interesting to see where that leads us in the coming days.