You're a general manager with a team in the thick of a pennant race, trying to make it back to the playoffs for the first time since 2005. Your shortstop has not yet produced at the plate, but has performed well in the field (sixth in the league in fielding average, and first in the league in double-plays turned). Shopping for a replacement, you come up with two choices:
Shortstop 1: .299 batting average, .837 OPS, 14 homers.
Shortstop 2: .238 batting average, .635 OPS, 8 homers.
You want shortstop No. 1, right?
Not if you're Frank Wren, who just traded shortstop No. 1, Yunel Escobar, to the Toronto Blue Jays for shortstop No. 2, Alex Gonzalez. Okay, those are 2009 numbers, and we all know that baseball statistics are more meaningful when taken as larger samplings, so let's take a look at the last few... What? Oh! That's right! You're Frank Wren, and you don't believe in looking at a player's performance in the long-term. You believe that a three-month sampling outweighs a player's performance over a three-year span, or even a career. This sort of thinking is reminiscent of the miserable Braves teams of the 1980s, who once rewarded Alex Trevino for an early-season hot streak with a regrettable multi-year contract.
But let's give Wren the benefit of the doubt, and take a look at current numbers. Over the course of the season's first half, Gonzalez has outperformed Escobar in the power department, amassing 17 homers and 43 extra-base hits, while Escobar is inexplicably still looking for his first home run. Yet, Gonzalez still boasts a Darrel Chaney-esque .296 OBP. Who is Darrel Chaney, you ask? My point exactly.
The consensus around baseball is that Escobar can only get better. He's too good, and has been too steady over the course of his career to keep performing at such a low level. It is also agreed that Gonzalez will not sustain these power numbers—he's done nothing in his career to indicate this is anything but an exceptional, and atypical, hot streak. Even if he continues to perform near his current level, Gonazalez is a bad fit for this Braves team, which has thrived on making contact, hitting behind the runner, bunting, and manufacturing runs in a way no Bobby Cox team has before. Escobar, despite his power lapse, has a decent OBP, and puts the bat on the ball. Gonzalez strikes out once every 5 1/2 at-bats, a rate nearly double that of Escobar, and that rate is true not only for this season, but for his career.
The best case scenario for the Braves is that Gonzalez will be another Nate McLouth, who hits an occasional home run, plays good defense, and does little else. Some Braves fans will call for the light-hitting Omar Infante to take over at shortstop, but Infante's value lies in his versatility. He can play seven positions, and play them fairly well, the value of which cannot be underestimated, especially with the oft-injured Chipper Jones, Matt Diaz, and the aforementioned McLouth on the team.
Rumor has it that the Braves, and particularly Bobby Cox, have soured on Escobar, citing a poor attitude and lack of intensity. Whether that is the motivation behind this move, or merely Wren making an impulsive decision in hopes of adding a little more pop to the lineup, this is a bad deal for the Braves. If anything, the team needs a clutch hitter who will consistently deliver a base hit in a critical situation—someone like Josh Willingham. What they got was a home run and a double a week, and lots of misery in between.
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