The Toronto Blue Jays showed their first decisive sign that they're starting to look beyond 2010 and gear up for the future with a five-player trade with the Atlanta Braves in which the Jays received shortstop Yunel Escobar and left-handed pitcher Jo-Jo Reyes.
In exchange the Jays sent Atlanta shortstop Alex Gonzalez along with minor leaguers Tim Collins and Tyler Pastornicky. Gonzalez had a great first half for the Jays both in the field and at the plate. He hit 17 homers and put up a .341 wOBA while batting .259. The Jays had an option on Gonzalez for next season but the 33-year-old wasn't in their long term plans.
Collins (more on him here) had become one of the Jays most interesting prospects since being signed in 2007 as an undrafted free agent. His ability to strikeout 13.6 batters per nine innings coupled with his 5'7", 155 lb frame certainly made for an intriguing prospect. Collins was enjoying a terrific season with Double-A New Hampshire striking out 73 in 43 innings with nine saves, a 2.51 ERA, and 2.13 FIP. Collins, a lefty, is also just 20 years old.
In return, the Blue Jays will take a chance on 27-year-old Yunel Escobar. After establishing himself as one of the better young shortstops in the game in 2008 and 2009, this season has been a disaster at the plate. Escobar is hitting just .238 with zero home runs in 301 plate appearance. His lack of power has kept his slugging percentage below .300 at just .284.
The only bright spot offensively for Escobar has been his continued above average plate discipline. For his career he's drawn a walk in 9.7 percent of his plate appearances, and this season has done so 12.3 percent of the time. He also doesn't strike out often, going down just 11.9 percent of the time.
The Jays are gambling, albeit with little risk, that Escobar can rebound back to the hitter he was in 2008 and 2009. In those two seasons he hit .294 with an average of 12 homers and a .124 isolated power. That type of output coupled with his excellent walk rate allowed him to post wOBAs of .337 and .357, respectively.
Defensively, Escobar might not be quite as good as Gonzalez, but UZR has pegged him as above average in both of his full seasons, as well as this one. The Jays did give up some decent talent in this deal but Escobar still has three years of team control as 2011 will be his first arbitration eligible season. If he does rebound at the plate the Jays will have a cost-controlled shortstop in the prime of his career. Not the kind of player you can get in a trade anytime you please.
There is of course concern that Escobar may not be able to bounce back. Surely, the Braves know more about Escobar than anyone else and were willing to move him rather than wait for him to bounce back. Whether that speaks more to the type of player Escobar is or to the need for the Braves to win now remains to be seen.
This is the last season for Braves manager Bobby Cox, and possibly their future Hall-of-Fame third baseman Chipper Jones too. That certainly has placed an emphasis on winning now and Gonzalez can help the Braves do just that. As for the Jays, this is a smart move as there was little in terms of MLB-ready talent in their system at the shortstop position.
Escobar could wind up as nothing more than a low cost place holder for prospect Adeiny Hechavarria. The upside however of a slick fielding shortstop who hits for average, draws walks, and hits a dozen dingers a year was too tempting to pass on.
With the trade deadline fast approaching it will be exciting to see if any other Jays veterans are moved and what potential pieces of the puzzle they get in return.