Jul 14, 2010, 7:05 PM EDT
Yunel Escobar for Alex Gonzalez certainly isn’t a deal anyone saw coming a year or two ago. Sure, the Braves had always had something of a love-hate relationship with their Cuban shortstop, but they had no shortage of opportunities to move him for promising players. To trade him now for an older, less-rangy shortstop having a fluke year seems like a waste.
That’s not to say it can’t work out. While Escobar’s 2008 and 2009 seasons were arguably better than any Gonzalez has had since reaching the majors in 1998, he has been a complete bust this year with no sign of breaking out. It’s remarkable just how little power he’s displayed. Everything off his bat seems to be a popup or a grounder to short. His always fine strikeout rate has held steady and his walk rate is up, but he just hasn’t hit the ball with authority at any point this year.
Gonzalez, on the other hand, has a chance to put up a 30-homer season. He struggles to make contact and he’ll weaken the OBP at the bottom of Atlanta’s lineup, but he’ll probably manage to drive in some of the runners that Escobar was leaving on base. He’s also a steadier defender than Escobar, even if he has made 11 errors to Escobar’s nine this year. He’s lost a step, particularly on up-the-middle grounders, but he remains rock solid.
What I find particularly interesting about the deal is that the Braves, the contending team, knew they were giving up the superior property and insisted on getting a couple of prospects in return. Atlanta also parted with left-hander Jo-Jo Reyes in the five-player swap, but there’s no way the Blue Jays would have traded Tim Collins and infielder Tyler Pastornicky for him. Reyes’ stock has plummeted, and he was essentially a throw-in.
Collins, a 5-foot-7 southpaw, has struck out 73 in 43 innings for Double-A New Hampshire this year. He has a chance to be considerably more than a specialist, as righties have hit just .158 off him. Despite his small frame, he works in the low-90s consistently, and he has a quality curve. He’s a fine relief prospect.
Pastornicky, 20, was a fifth-round pick in 2008. He’s hit .258/.348/.376 with 24 steals while splitting time between shortstop and second base for Single-A Dunedin this season. He doesn’t currently project as a regular, but there’s still some room for growth — he’s already taken a step forward in the power department this year — and he’s a pretty good bet to turn into a nifty utilityman if he doesn’t reach his ceiling.
Of course, I still believe this was a no-brainer for the Blue Jays. Escobar is likely to revert to being a better player than Gonzalez next season, and he’s under control through 2013. He won’t even make very much next year because he has been so bad so far this year. My guess is that he’ll go to at least one All-Star Game as a Blue Jay.
That said, I also really liked the Scott Rolen-for-Edwin Encarnacion deal last year, and that similar trade of an established veteran for an underperforming younger player hasn’t worked out so well to date.
For the Braves, it’s a short-term fix. Gonzalez’s $2.5 million option for 2011 will almost surely be picked up, so the Braves will have him then, too. Still, this trade all boils down to how well Gonzalez plays over these next 2 1/2 or, hopefully, 3 1/2 months. If he solidifies a position the Braves were getting nothing from to date and the team goes far into the postseason, then the deal will be worth it regardless of how well Escobar bounces back.
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