Yunel Escobar Has Some Great Representation

The Toronto Blue Jays signed shortstop Yunel Escobar (28) to an extension over the weekend. The contract reportedly includes two guaranteed years at $5 million each buying out his last two years of arbitration (2012 and 2013) as well as club options for 2014 and 2015, also at $5 million each. After impressing both at the plate and in the field with the Atlanta Braves during his first three seasons, Escobar had a rough 2010 and was traded to the Blue Jays. He’s recovered quite nicely this season, and it is hard to see how the Blue Jays could lose out in this deal. The only question is why Escobar agreed to it.

From the Blue Jays’ perspective, what is important is the guaranteed portion of the contract: $10 million over two years. To properly analyze these years, we need to remember that these would have been Escobar’s second and third years of arbitration, when, as a general rule a player is on average paid 60 and 80 percent of his open market value. So we should compare this deal to something like an open market two-year, $15 million deal. Assuming a conservative rate of increase in average player salary and standard rate of attrition, that is paying Escobar as if he will be a 1.5 WAR player in 2012. Given that in Escobar “disaster” 2010 season he was worth two wins, and that he’s been worth about two wins already in 2011, this already looks good for Toronto. To get a better idea of the value Toronto is getting, let’s take a closer look at Escobar.

Escobar’s bat was the primary culprit behind his poor 2010 and one-way ticket out of Atlanta. From 2007 to 2009, Escobar hit well, especially for a shortstop, with a nice blend of contact, walks, and a little bit of pop: .301/.375/.426 (.352 wOBA/113 wRC+). In 2010 his patience and ability to put the ball into play stayed basically the same, but he seemed to lose the ability to hit the ball hard, and both his BABIP and power suffered accordingly as he fell to .256/.337/.318 (.301 wOBA/88 wRC+) for the year. Escobar provides another lesson in the prime importance of plate approach: his walk, strikeout, swing, and contact rates indicate that he hasn’t started hacking, he just waits for his pitch and does a good job of connecting when he sees one he likes. His .280/.357/.428 (.347 wOBA/1119 wRC+) line so far in 2011 indicates that his “bounce back” comes more from an increase in power rather than an inflated BABIP.

There might be some concern over Escobar’s increase in ground balls at the expense of line drives and flies. However, Escobar will never have the kind of power to drive fly balls out with great regularity, so while the short term increase in HR/FB rate is nice, that is more of a return to his pre-2010 days and will regress some. While grounders won’t go out of the park, he’s also avoiding the infield flies that killed his BABIP last season. His current ZiPS’ RoS projection (.272/.346/.391, .328 wOBA) is probably in the right neighborhood of his current true talent: about seven runs above average per 700 plate appearances in the current run environment

Escobar has always had a good reputation as a fielder, but the defensive metrics leave it open to question whether he’s elite or merely above average. Leaving aside the small sample of 2011, here are his UZR/DRS/Total Zone with hit location (TZL) from recent years: +3/+12/+14 (2008), +2/+13/+28 (2009), +4/+19/+1 (2010). The numbers are all over the place. It’s probably a good idea to turn to his Aggregate Defensive Ratings, which also includes input from the Fans Scouting Report. His ADR for 2009 and 2010 (the seasons that includes fan input) are +14 and +8. Adding in some regression and adjusting for age, let’s conservatively call Escobar a +5 fielder.

Putting it all together: we have Escobar as a +7 hitter, +5 fielder, +7.5 positional adjustment, +25 AL replacement level, adjusted for about 85% playing time and taking off about half-a-win for general aging and attrition, and we have about a 3.5 WAR player.

Even if you think that’s too generous and want to knock him down a bit to three wins, the Blue Jays are still getting a great deal given that they are paying Escobar as if he’s a 1.5 WAR player. That’s before even considering that they also have options on what would have been his first two years of free agency. Unless there’s a horrible injury or unforeseeable collapse (it would have to be far worse than what happened to Escobar in 2010), picking up his options already seems like a no-brainer. If Adeiny Hechavarria miraculously learns how to hit well enough to back up his reportedly otherworldly glove, Escobar becomes a coveted trade asset given his salary or perhaps moves to second. Either way, Escobar is under the Jays’ control through the seasons he’s likely to still be an above-average player. As with Jose Bautista, the Blue Jays aren’t waiting around for free agents to fall into their laps, they are extending their good players now so that they (hopefully) can be joined in the near future by additions from the farm and add a fourth team to the American League East bloodbath.

The curious part about the contract is that Escobar and his representatives agreed to it. Escobar and the Blue Jays avoided arbitration with a $2.9 million contract for 2010. If they did go to arbitration after this season, it is hard to imagine Escobar getting much less than $5 million even if he mailed it in for the second half. And if he got $5 million after 2011, barring some bizarre boating accident or the like, he’d get substantially more than that in arbitration after 2012. Perhaps Escobar and his representatives thought the (slightly) greater security of the guaranteed money and avoiding the discomfort of two arbitration hearings was worth giving up what might have turned out to be a million or two or three… but why give up not just one, but two years of free agency? Maybe the Blue Jays, Escobar, and his advisors know something I don’t (in fact, I’m sure they know a many things I don’t, but I can only go on the information I have), but to me it seems that a) Escobar isn’t getting any more money than he’s likely to have gotten for his two arbitration seasons (in fact he is probably getting less), and b) is very likely giving up quite a bit of money for his first free two agent years, since the Jays are only going to turn the options down if he’s so bad he’ll get less than $5 million in free agency. I just doesn’t see that Escobar is really getting much, if anything, out of signing this deal.

I understand why most other people don’t really care about this aspect. However, from my perspective, it’s hard to decide whether it’s more appropriate to applaud Toronto’s front office or jeer Escobar’s representatives.



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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can’t get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.



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Danny
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Danny

What a brilliant trade by AA – signed Alex Gonzalez for basically peanuts, traded him midway through the season for a young, well above average shortstop and then signed that well above average shortstop to a deal well below market value.

ayjackson
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ayjackson

Jo Jo Reyes, Tim Collins and Tyler Pastornicky will also have a say in how this trade is measured in the coming years.

ddriver80
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ddriver80

And getting Jo Jo Reyes and turning him into a decent end of rotation lefty. Hard to find solid lefties, Reyes looks like he gets it.

Looks like they are using the Sternberg/Silverman/Friedman approach of buy low, sell high.

Undocorkscrew
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Undocorkscrew

Reyes pretty much sucks. His ERA on the year is good and all, but he has a WHIP near 1.500 doesn’t he? He’s improved on his BB rate though, at least through 80 innings. Wouldn’t count on his ERA staying there with as many hits as he allows……

Danny
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Danny

“Reyes pretty much sucks.”

No, he doesn’t. ERA and FIP just above 4 (nearly equal) and he’s accumulated nearly 1 WAR in less than half a season. That’s a pretty valuable commodity there…especially for someone who was an afterthought in the deal for most observers.

joser
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joser

You’re using WHIP and ERA in an argument? In an un-ironic way? On Fangraphs?

JT Grace
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JT Grace

Still cannot believe the stupidity of Atlanta’s FO for trading Escobar and receiving nothing in return but an old all-glove shortstop and a couple of midling prospects.

Aaron Whitehead
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Aaron Whitehead

To be fair, the situation in Atlanta with Escobar did sound untenable. We can’t discount these aspects just because we can’t see them. That said, the problem for me isn’t that they traded Escobar (and more), it’s that they got SO little in return.

Luke
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Luke

I’m still livid about this trade and I still miss Yuney every day but Pastornicky is playing pretty well in AA at 21. .301/.346/.417 with 14 steals (albeit 7 CS) and 5 HR.

I expect the Braves to give Gonzalez another 1-year deal while they wait for Pastornicky. If he can make it to the bigs as even as an average every day SS, then the trade looks fine.

Still, I think that the clubhouse concerns Escobar supposedly was giving the Braves front office would have been tolerable had he been hitting like the 2009 version of himself and that it was an overreaction to deal him when they did.

Miss you Escy, can’t wait to see you in the Ted tonight.

Bronnt
Member
Bronnt

Yeah, they were just too eager to get rid of him. They called him a clubhouse cancer, but he was such a distraction that the Braves were well in first place at the time they traded him. He proceeded to post better offensive numbers than Alex Gonzalez over the remainder of the season while continuing to provide similar defensive value. Then this year, he’s clearly been the superior player.

The telling quote about Yunel Escobar is this from (I think) Chipper Jones. “He was less annoying when he was hitting well.” That says it all…the Braves didn’t think he was always clubhouse cancer, but be annoying AND struggle for half a season? Get your ass out.

joser
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joser

The irony is that the guy who wanted him gone the most is no longer in the clubhouse either, but is enjoying his retirement. Meanwhile, the Braves must go on.

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