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March 16, 2012

Transaction Analysis

Royals Extend Escobar

by R.J. Anderson

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KANSAS CITY ROYALS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Re-signed SS-R Alcides Escobar to a four-year extension worth a guaranteed $10.5 million with club options for 2016 and 2017 that could make the deal worth a total of $21.75 million.

Do you know how I know that Dayton Moore believes championship baseball teams are always strong up the middle? Because Moore has repeatedly asserted how he buys that parlance as truth. Talk is cheap, but Moore is proving he means what he says this spring. Not even four weeks ago, Moore re-signed since-injured catcher Salvador Perez to a five-year extension that could run for eight years. Lorenzo Cain is in the infancy of his major-league career with the Royals (even more so than Perez is), and Johnny Giavotella may not be the long-term solution at the keystone, leaving Escobar as the next logical up-the-middle player to extend, so Moore did.

Escobar is a defensive wunderkind with an above-average arm and great range. He makes highlight reel-worthy plays with the best of them.  Escobar makes the kind of plays that inspires romanticism and comments like, “I don’t care if he hits .200—I want him starting on my team.” Unfortunately, Escobar accepted the challenge and batted .204 through early June last season. He would, however, go on a tear before cooling back down. Still, Escobar finished the season with a .239 True Average, the fifth-worst mark amongst shortstops with 400-plus plate appearances.

Offensive incompetence is nothing new to Escobar. Over the past three seasons, his .231 True Average sits in a nest with the much-maligned Royals’ pair of Yuniesky Betancourt (.233) and Chris Getz (.232). Whereas Betancourt and Getz are grilled for their offensive woes, Escobar is saved from acerbic comments due to his defense, yes, and his age—he turned 25 in December. Escobar’s offensive toolbox contains good speed and the ability to make contact at an above-average clip. Without much power or plate discipline to speak of, Escobar lacks the secondary skills that can help buoy a player’s perceived offensive value in this post-Moneyball world.  Neither attribute seemed to improve last season either; Escobar’s walk rate decreased (from 6.5 percent of his plate appearances to 4.2 percent—though six additional intentional walks inflate his 2010 rate) and his ratio of extra-base hits per hits remained static at 24 percent. Escobar’s bat could still come around, right? Maybe not.

There have been 25 seasons since 1980 where a shortstop 25 or younger hit no better .260/.300/.350 in each of the three slash lines. Comparing those players’ lines through that season to their lines from that point onward shows that the players do improve, but not as much as you might think (note: some players appeared multiple times, therefore the numbers listed here are their numbers after the most recent appearance):

Name

Year

Line Through

PA After

Line After

Alfredo Griffin

1983

.251/.287/.335

4,330

.248/.284/.308

Andres Thomas

1989

.237/.256/.339

290

.219/.248/.302

Bobby Meacham

1985

.233/.306/.291

551

.242/.326/.338

Cesar Izturis

2003

.246/.270/.319

3,163

.259/.305/.324

Curtis Wilkerson

1984

.243/.278/.276

2,092

.245/.289/.313

Desi Relaford

1998

.236/.288/.329

2,713

.245/.327/.351

Dick Schofield

1988

.231/.297/.336

2,269

.229/.320/.292

Felix Fermin

1989

.244/.309/.268

2,335

.264/.304/.313

Gary DiSarcina

1992

.234/.273/.286

3,354

.263/.296/.352

Glenn Hoffman

1982

.238/.284/.331

1,263

.246/.298/.332

Jack Wilson

2002

.240/.285/.316

4,251

.272/.313/.380

Juan Uribe

2002

.260/.299/.400

4,149

.251/.298/.428

Mariano Duncan

1985

.244/.293/.340

4,378

.270/.301/.395

Mike Caruso

1999

.278/.305/.343

21

.100/.143/.100

Ozzie Guillen

1989

.263/.284/.330

4,207

.264/.290/.344

Ramon Santiago

2003

.231/.297/.311

1,331

.260/.327/.360

Rey Ordonez

1996

.257/.289/.303

2,877

.244/.290/.312

Ronny Cedeno

2006

.252/.283/.344

1,648

.243/.288/.356

Royce Clayton

1995

.249/.302/.339

6,198

.261/.315/.376

Spike Owen

1986

.235/.299/.321

3,699

.251/.336/.352

The biggest single leap in OPS is 92 points by Jack Wilson. Seven others gained at least 50 OPS points, while four shortstops saw their OPS increase by 20 points or fewer and four lost souls saw their OPS decline (though Mike Caruso barely merits mention). Should Escobar follow suit, he will improve on his career 633 OPS… just probably not enough to push him over 730. Exceptions do happen, and this look is hardly the end-all given the arbitrary endpoints and whatnot involved.

Only Moore knows if he made this deal with an eye on Escobar’s bat improving. Similarly, only Moore knows why he made this deal in the first place. The aforementioned “strong up the middle” theme appears here and with the Perez signing, but so too does the “why now?” line of questioning. Escobar would have become arbitration eligible following this season, true, yet how much is a defensive-first (and perhaps defensive-only) shortstop likely to make through that process? Did the Royals peg that number to be high enough to warrant a $10.5 million guarantee? Or is this an implicit way of telling Escobar that the organization believes in him and believes that they need him in order to obtain a playoff berth that has eluded them since 1985?

Regardless of the reasoning, the bottom line is that Escobar will not hamstring the Royals’ ability to re-sign Alex Gordon or Eric Homer should he fail. And extending Escobar could prove to be a masterstroke if Escobar does develop into a decent hitter with a golden glove. The most likely result might be for Escobar’s value and his salary to cancel each other out. Breaking even isn’t a bad outcome; it just isn’t the optimal outcome with these kinds of deals. Give Moore credit for thinking forward, being a man of his word, and for knowing that being strong-up-the-middle is an earmark of a winning team. Just do not add this extension to the annals of great contacts yet.


R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here

Related Content:  Dayton Moore

14 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

John Carter

I appreciated this analysis, thanks.

Mar 16, 2012 07:57 AM
rating: 1
 
wbrockhoff

As a Royals fan, I like the contract, perhaps even as much or more than the Perez extension. Even if the economics are "breakeven" to only slightly favorable, there is value to the Royals in having budgetary certainty and proven long-term commitment when its time to sign or arbitrate with the guys that really matter (Hosmer, Moustakas, etc.).

Mar 16, 2012 08:14 AM
rating: 3
 
ColonelTom

It's an admission that the system has no real SS prospects of note. Christian Colon took a step backwards offensively in AA last year (.668 OPS), and KG's past writeups on him indicate that despite great hands/instincts, his limited range may move him to 2B even if the bat plays. Escobar gives them stability and excellent defense to help a young pitching staff, and the salary isn't much worse than they'd pay a veteran retread to play much worse. If he hits at all, it's a steal.

I've been a big critic of Dayton Moore in the past, but the lineup is coming together perfectly - big boppers on the corners (Gordon in LF, Hosmer 1B, Moustakas at 3B, eventually Myers in RF, and Butler at DH) and strong defense up the middle (Perez at C, Escobar at SS, Cain in CF so far, with Giavotella/Colon fighting for 2B down the road). As Butler gets too expensive, Cheslor Cuthbert should arrive to bump Moustakas to DH. If a few of their young pitchers come through, this team will be dangerous in a couple of years.

Mar 16, 2012 09:15 AM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

Not that I dislike the deal, since he basically signed a younger, cheaper Betancourt, but this "defensive wunderkind" has a 0.2 FRAA in his career which ain't all that hot for a player whose prime asset is supposed to be his defense.

Mar 16, 2012 09:44 AM
rating: 0
 
timber

He's only had two seasons in the majors, and his first year his defense was shaky as he adjusted. I would expect that number to change to something more commensurate with his second year performance.

Mar 16, 2012 10:36 AM
rating: 0
 
jrfukudome

Did Betancourt ever have Escobar's range?

Mar 16, 2012 18:13 PM
rating: 0
 
Nathan

Is FRAA the standard for defense?

Mar 16, 2012 19:13 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

Well.. depends.. sometimes they go by highlight reels if the FRAA doesn't add up.

Mar 16, 2012 19:34 PM
rating: -1
 
meanwhoogean

Nice analysis. So what's the future hold for the Royals. A bunch of average to slightly above average bats? Or is it a potentially elite line up? Pitching seems like more of a long term question mark. I just wonder when is it going to be "the year?"

Mar 16, 2012 10:18 AM
rating: 0
 
fbraconi

In an article about KC's middle-infield, the dismissiveness regarding Giavotella seems negligent. True, he may not be "the long-term solution at the keystone," but how many young players are unquestionably their team's long-term solution at any position? Fact is, the guy has done everything you could ask for offensively from a middle-infield prospect at AA and AAA. His defense is apparently still sub-par but from what I read he has a good work ethic and defensively can improve. Overall, BP's stance should be that anything less than a full and patient major league trial for Giavotella would be managerial malpractice.

Mar 16, 2012 10:27 AM
rating: 0
 
ddufourlogger

He looks a whole lot like Dustin Pedroia to me. May never have that much pop, but I don't think Pedroia was supposed to either, if memory serves. Think the Royals would be happy with that comp.

Mar 16, 2012 12:45 PM
rating: -1
 
Bradley Ankrom

This is fantastic work, R.J. Your learning SQL is like giving Batman the ability to fly. Unstoppable.

Mar 16, 2012 12:36 PM
rating: 0
 
jfranco77

Well, if his upside is Jack Wilson then you have to be happy, right? :)

Mar 16, 2012 13:19 PM
rating: 0
 
onegameref

There are too many SS with Chicago ties on that list of underachievers. Could be another reason why the Sox and Cubs have had so much trouble stepping forward in the past. At least the two current incumbents in Chicago can hold their own for the most part.

Mar 16, 2012 15:50 PM
rating: 0
 
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