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I Was So Full of Scotch, I Could Not Stand Up: Why Did the Braves Give Us Yunel Escobar?

If anyone can get to it, he can. (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)
If anyone can get to it, he can. (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)
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Halfway through the season, Alex Anthopoulos traded Alex Gonzalez, Tyler Pastornicky and Tim Collins for Yunel Escobar and Jo-Jo Reyes.  Although Collins could conceivably become a legitimate setup man (or the most dominant 5' 7" closer in history?) and Pastornicky could be a decent role player, this was a win-now move for the Braves, who were just looking to upgrade at short in a season that looked like they'd make the playoffs for the first time since 2005.  Escobar had been having a nightmare of a season (.238 / .334 / .284) and Gonzalez was a journeyman-turned-All-Star, who'd already hit 17 homeruns (.254 / .296 / .497).  Both had good reputations as fielders, though Yunel at 27 years old is better than Alex at 33.  Braves fans on the whole had quickly soured on Yunel, who had acquired a reputation as being lazy, though, and -- as mvhsbball mentioned in his fanpost -- were glad to be rid of him when the trade was announced.  Jays fans, on the other hand, were happy to be buying so low on a player who had hit .299 / .377 / .436 while providing well above-average-to-excellent defence (+23 runs according to TotalZone, +2 runs according to UZR in 2009) at short.

Yunel Escobar, who had not hit an homerun all season for the Braves, hit the ground (okay, turf) running, homering twice in his first four games with the Jays.  Over 266 plate appearances with the Jays, he batted .275 / .340 / .356.  All in all, in spite of the two early homers, the power still hasn't completely returned.  Escobar had just 11 extra-base hits (four homers and and seven doubles) in 236 at-bats over 60 games with the Jays (isolated power of .081).  More importantly, however, thanks in part to the normalization of BABIP (.270 with Braves, .300 with the Jays), Escobar has been able to set the table well.  In spite of the occasional mistake (and one really terrible series), Yunel has looked exceptionally good in the field and has almost certainly played better defence than the still-adequate Alex Gonzalez.  Over the course of the season, in spite of his wretched start, fangraphs has Yunel worth 2.2 wins while Alex has been worth 3.4, so Alex has had a better season.

Of course, so far, we've really only looked at production in 2010 and the years leading up to it.  Although the Braves made it with 2010 in mind, Anthopoulos was clearly looking forward.  AA had inked free agent Alex Gonzalez to a 1 yr / 2.75 M contract during the 2009 offseason . . . a decent contract, considering that the Jays needed someone to play short, but made much better by the team option for a second year at 2.5 M.  It's likely that the Braves will pick up Seabass's option and -- provided that he's worth even one win, they'd be right to do so, as he'd probably still be providing some surplus value.  Depending on how good you think his glove is, he is either very likely to do so (six of the past seven seasons using UZR) or just somewhat likely (three of the last six using TotalZone).  Alex Gonzalez was not a bad pickup for the Braves.  What makes the move bad is what they gave up for him.  Yunel Escobar is just now becoming arbitration-eligible and has now accrued 12.3 fangraphs WAR over the past four seasons or 11.2 baseballprojection WAR between 2007 and 2009 (it has not yet updated for 2010 yet, though, as mentioned previously, fangraphs has him at 2.2 this year.  Given his age, I'd say that he's a good bet to bounce back some and be worth at least three wins over the next three seasons.

Consider this: (1) Yunel Escobar has an higher ceiling (best season worth 5.5 wins vs. 3.5 wins); (2) Yunel Escobar is more consistently valuable per season than Alex Gonzalez (worth at least 2 WAR each season vs. some seasons worth less than a win) ; (3) Yunel Escobar will be 28 in 2011, whereas Alex Gonzalez will be 34; (4) Yunel Escobar will likely be paid about the same or less in 2011 (players generally get around 40% of what they could fetch on the open market in their first season of arbitration); and (5) Yunel Escobar is under team-control for an additional two seasons after 2011.  Sure, Pastornicky and Collins are likely to provide a bit more value than Jo-Jo Reyes, but this is undoubtedly a coup for AA.  He managed to turn a player anyone could have signed in the offseason for a song into an above-average shortstop under team control for the next three seasons.  Plus, he's fun to watch.

Thanks to Rancid's "Nihilism" for today's post title.