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December 6, 2012
Andrew Friedman tried staying in-house to replace Jason Bartlett. He tried Reid Brignac and Sean Rodriguez over the past two seasons, but neither took the position by the horns. The last resort was moving Ben Zobrist back to shortstop to finish out the season. While Zobrist performed admirably given the circumstances, he was not the long-term solution. In lieu of one—the closest things in the Rays system, Tim Beckham and Hak-Ju Lee, each have questions of their own to answer at the minor-league level before earning big-league consideration—Friedman needed to troll the trade market for a short-term fix. He did not have to leave the state, however.
Escobar has the physical tools to be a solid player, and the past results indicate he’s more tease than bust. His range is enough to play the position, and his plus arm enables him to turn deep fields into outs. His knack for getting on base at an elite level is overstated due to success early in his career, but he does own a .266/.335/.358 line over the past three seasons. Escobar would be an upgrade over the Rays’ non-Zobrist shortstops (who collectively hit .223/.287/.330) even if he were to hit as he did in 2012 (.253/.300/.344). His physical tools are not on trial, but his mental tools would be wise to find a good alibi.
Concerns about Escobar’s character have prevailed since his Atlanta days. Ignore the eye-black controversy and try to think up the last time a shortstop this young, this inexpensive, and with this kind of big-league track record went through four organizations in a three-year span. Where there’s smoke, there’s probably fire. Escobar doesn’t help himself by having the all too frequent space cadet moment on the field either. The Rays are as market-driven as any team in the league. This means tasking Joe Maddon, Dave Martinez, and the team’s veterans with embracing and supervising eccentric and—at times—downright undesirable characters.
Perhaps the past six months will help Escobar mature. If not, then maybe hanging around out-and-out professionals like Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist will do the trick. Shy of that, Escobar could find himself on the move again in a hurry if the Rays sour on him. His contract does guarantee $5 million this season, but the next two years are each $5 million club options. Who knows—maybe the Rays will have their long-term solution at shortstop after all if Escobar grows up.
At the very least, acquiring Escobar allows Zobrist to move elsewhere. The Rays have two potential second basemen in Ryan Roberts and the aforementioned Rodriguez. With B.J. Upton departing, Friedman could elect to ask Zobrist to move to the outfield full-time and man one of the corner spots. The offseason is still young, though, and the Rays may opt to improve their lineup further by adding two more bats—one at designated hitter and the other in the outfield. —R.J. Anderson
Signed 4C-L Eric Hinske to a one-year deal worth around $1 million. [12/4]
Hinske appears to be on his final legs. After years of contributing to teams off the bench, Hinske showed signs of decay last season. He made contact and put a charge into the ball less often than usual—concerning since much of his offensive game revolves around power. Kevin Towers’ interest in Hinske likely involves the former Rookie of the Year winner’s reputation as a glue guy. Since taking over the D’Backs, Towers has shown a fondness for adding positive clubhouse presences. Hinske fits that bill, even if he might lack on-the-field skills in his advanced age. —R.J. Anderson
Acquired INF-L Derek Dietrich from Rays for SS-R Yunel Escobar [12/4].
What, you thought the Marlins were going to pay a player $5 million next season? Escobar lasted just over two weeks before he went the way of all Florida flesh, which might have been the Winter Meetings’ most predictable move. According to Larry Beinfest, Escobar’s reservations about playing third base prompted the trade, but the swap just might have had something to do with the fact that he makes more than the major-league minimum.
One would think Miami could have gotten more in return had the team been willing to wait—Escobar is signed at a reasonable rate—but the Marlins did manage to pick up a potentially useful prospect in Derek Dietrich, a 23-year-old second-round pick from 2010 who made it to Double-A late in the season. Dietrich is a minor-league shortstop who won’t be one in Miami (or anywhere else in the majors), but he could potentially stick elsewhere in the infield. Here are Mark Anderson’s scouting notes on Dietrich from this season:
Underrated player, potential average to solid-average hitter in the .270-.280 range at his peak, good gap power, 20-30 doubles, 10-15 home runs, will have some swing and miss, won't be a huge OBP guy but won't be a black hole either, 40 run, not a natural shortstop, profiles better at 3B, plus arm, solid overall player.
With Escobar off the books, baseball writers have more material for their new favorite pastime: Marlins payroll porn.
Ricky Nolasco’s contract accounts for over half of that guaranteed $21 million; Nolasco prefers to be traded, and Jeffrey Loria would be happy to oblige. The Marlins have resigned themselves to the fact that they have to put eight position players on the field, so with Escobar in Tampa, they’re reportedly in hot pursuit of a third baseman, including such big-ticket items as Jack Hannahan and Ian Stewart. The Marlins have to sign someone to appease the Players Association, but odds are the new guy doesn’t make as much as Escobar did. If no new guy materializes, the Marlins will have to make do with the veteran who’s currently slated to be their second-highest-paid non-Nolasco player: Greg Dobbs. —Ben Lindbergh
Not being able to play shortstop steps on Dietrich's ultimate value, as the bat shows some promise but not enough to suggest first-division value (or even solid-average-regular value) off the position. The hit tool isn't a plus weapon, but he has good raw pop and can sting a ball when he runs into it. He has good bat speed, but often cheats into lower-level fastballs, which puts him at the mercy of anything off-speed. After a move to the Southern League, pitchers with a plan had his number, and lefties made him an easy out. The bat might be able to play in a second-division shadow if everything clicks, but as a likely 2B or 3B, its value doesn't exactly live up to the hype. He gets props for his gamer mentality and work ethic, which will help him push those fringy tools higher in game action, but the reality is that this isn't an impact talent at the highest level. —Jason Parks
R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @r_j_anderson