Let’s get this out of the way: On paper, this deal appears to be a victory for the Jays.
Yunel Escobar is 27 years old. He has three years of team control remaining. He contributed 10 wins in his first three seasons. He’s a good player and he may only get better. In exchange, the Braves acquire Alex Gonzalez and two players who did not make the Jays’ top 10 prospects list per Marc Hulet, but have some interesting upside — particularly Tim Collins, a short lefty with ridiculous strikeout rates (in Double-A) and a funky delivery to boot. The Jays also receive Jo-Jo Reyes, who, while he’s no prized pig, would’ve been in the majors with most teams that lack Atlanta’s pitching surplus.
On to the cream of the deal: Escobar is only available for such a return because the Braves lost faith in him. Not his playing abilities, mind you, but his makeup and work ethic. The tumultuous relationship between Escobar and manager Bobby Cox is no secret and when Atlanta loses faith in you, then it’s only a matter of time before they ship you out. Just ask Marcus Giles.
The Braves are smart enough to realize this deal isn’t a slam dunk by any means. They also meddle in sabermetrics enough to realize that Escobar’s offensive struggles aren’t completely a loss in skill. His batting average on balls in play is .270 (versus a career mark of .316) and while that .291 wOBA is disgusting, he’s still walking at a career-best clip (over 12%) while maintaining a static strikeout rate. The most concerning thing about Escobar’s skill set from a performance standpoint is his vanishing power. That speaks to what they think of Escobar’s makeup. Ostensibly, Toronto’s scouts watched Escobar a few times in the recent weeks and talked with enough people around him to get the impression he’s manageable.
The Jays are banking that Escobar will respond to this move with a newfound passion and fire or that a continued apathy will still bank results, no matter how nuts he drives whoever manages the Jays after Cito Gaston’s retirement. In some ways, this is similar to the Edwin Encarnacion deal, only Escobar’s track record is about a million times better than Encarnacion’s ever was.
It’s been a whirlwind eight months for Jays’ general manager Alex Anthopoulos. He lost their previous starting shortstop, Marco Scutaro, to Boston, and replaced him with Boston’s old shortstop, Gonzalez, only to send him packing three-fourths of a year later for a younger player at the same position with recent history (and likely the future) on his side. Even if this deal doesn’t entirely work out in the Jays’ favor, and Escobar bombs out of the league before reaching free agency, this has to be looked upon as a pretty worthwhile risk for the Jays, who haven’t had a consistent shortstop for ages.