Blue Jays, Braves swap shortstops

The Toronto Blue Jays have traded shortstop Alex Gonzalez and prospects Tyler Pastornicky and Tim Collins to the Atlanta Braves for shortstop Yunel Escobar and pitcher Jo-Jo Reyes.

When I saw the news, the first thing I thought is Atlanta really wants to win it all this year. They traded a young, decent shortstop for an old guy having a career season- so far. But is the trade really so bad from their perspective?

Personally, I think they made a mistake. Yes, Yunel Escobar has sucked this year. The Braves are in a pennant chase and a 79 wRC+ and wOBA below .300 is not going to cut it. That said, Yunel can still field the ball. In 646 innings he has a 4.4 UZR and +21 DRS- the best mark of his career. Moreover, Yunel has been a very good fielder since making his debut in 2007. He has had positive ratings in UZR and DRS every season. DRS thinks Escobar is a Gold Glover, while UZR thinks he is simply a solid fielder. Either way, the dood can pick it. He usually can swing it as well. This is his first below average season of his career. In order starting in 2007, his wRC+ has been 124, 107, and 120 until this season. Those are some great numbers for a shortstop, that can field no less. The result, in those years, were WAR’s of 2.4, 3.3, and 4.3. Each season Escobar increased his production by about a win from 2007-2009. That is pretty good.

So what’s wrong with Yunel in 2010? Power. His BB% has gone up, his K% and contact% are in line with his career averages. But he just isn’t hitting for power. Yes, his BABIP is low for his LD% and career BABIP, but even if it was higher, it wouldn’t help him much this year. His power has literally vanished. His SLG is .284. His ISO is .046. His POW is 0.19. He has twelve extra base hits on the year- all doubles. His HR/FB% is 0.0% because as stated, he hasn’t hit a home run yet. I’m not a hitting coach and I don’t know if he’s had injuries or doesn’t work out anymore, so I can’t explain the dip in power. His LD% hasn’t decreased from his norms and he’s actually hit more fly balls than grounders. The one problem I can see is his percentage of infield flies has increased to double digits, while his career average is 5.0%. That’s a big problem, but it can’t be the sole reason why he literally has no power this year. It’s only been half a season, so Yunel can pick it up. His OBP has still been league average and as noted before, he still has his range on defense. He has a 1.0 WAR on the season, so he very well could end up with a league average WAR by season’s end. But that lack of power with no real indicator as to why is alarming. Is it alarming enough for Atlanta to deal the youngster?

I would say no. In three and half seasons Escobar has a career WAR of 11.1. Alex Gonzanlez, who made his debut in 1998, has a career WAR of 12.1. He’s a good fielder, but isn’t any better than Escobar. Normally, Alex Gonzalez is also a very poor hitter with a career .299 wOBA and 81 wRC+. In 2010 though, he has a 112 wRC+ thanks to a .497 SLG despite a .296 OBP. Apparently, he’s been the anti-Escobar at the dish. Escobar has still been able to get on base despite a complete lack of ability to drive the ball. Gonzalez can’t get on base to save his life, but when he does, he is getting extra base hits.

But Gonzalez won’t hold up. He has a deep career sample size that says his first half production at the plate won’t hold up. His rest of season projection have him at a .308 wOBA over 211 PA. Escobar, on the other hand, has three years of data saying he is a good hitter, so there is strong reason to put more faith in that sample size over his half a season sample size in 2010. His rest of season projection gives him a .335 wOBA over 265 PA.

Escobar is a 27 year old, cost-controlled shortstop who has shown he can be a good everyday player. Gonzalez is 33 and will be paid over a $1mil the rest of the way and has an option of $2.75mil for next season, otherwise he will be gone and Atlanta won’t have a shortstop next season (Omar Infante super All-Star!). He’s not a Type A nor a Type B player so Atlanta won’t be getting any draft picks from this deal. They received a decent prospect in Tim Collins, but Collins and Pastornicky aren’t the type of prospects I’d trade a young, productive shortstop for.

Consider this deal a thumbs down for Atlanta and a thumbs up for Toronto. There is no guarantee Gonzalez hits better than Escobar in the second half, and it’s safe to say Escobar will be the much better player in the near future. So even if Atlanta is trying to win this year, I don’t think this trade necessarily makes them any better at all. Sure, maybe Escobar never becomes a good hitter again. Maybe Escobar is a headcase like Joe Pawlikowksi of fangraphs suggests. But on the public surface, I just don’t see Atlanta’s rational in this trade. Toronto picked up a solid starting shortstop, who is cost-friendly and should be their starter for years to come. Atlanta, meanwhile, isn’t any better than they were yesterday and now have no shortstop for 2011.

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