Seemingly out of nowhere (I don’t recall hearing any anticipatory trade rumors), the Braves and Toronto Blue Jays traded starting shortstops today. The Jays get 27-year-old Yunel Escobar and the Braves get 33-year-old Alex Gonzalez.
I think this is a bad move for the Braves, because I’m not convinced that Gonzalez will give them more offense in the second half than they would have gotten from Escobar.
Escobar is having a bad year (currently a .618 OPS), while Gonzalez is having a career year (.793 OPS with 17 HRs) so far. However, Escobar has a career .771 OPS, while Gonzalez has a career OPS of .696. In short, one would expect Escobar to have a much better second half, and Gonzalez to have a much worse second half, at least compared to what each did in the first half.
Also, while Gonzalez is hitting with great power for a middle infielder this year, he still isn’t getting on base. His on-base percentage is a pathetic .296, while Escobar has a solid (for a middle infielder) .334 OBP, even hitting twenty points less than Gonzalez.
Clearly, the Braves feel they needed more power in their lineup. While they lead the NL in OBP at .343, they are only 13th in slugging percentage at .394. However, the lack of pop hasn’t really hurt their ability to score runs, the only number that really matters. Even with no power, Atlanta is currently sixth in the NL with 406 runs scored, thanks to their ability to get men on base.
On defense, fangraphs rates Gonzalez’s and Escobar’s defense about even (both are a little better than average). However, Escobar’s defense appears to be improving, while Gonzalez’s defense appears to be declining, which is pretty much what you would expect when the former shortstop is 27 years old and coming into his prime, while the latter is 33 years old and having a last hurrah.
If you can’t be fairly certain that Gonzalez will enable the Braves to score more runs than they would score if they had stuck with Escobar, this trade has to be seen as a mistake. The Braves are dumping Escobar when his value is at its lowest, and getting a player whose trade value is almost certainly as high as it will be at any time going forward.
The Blue Jays meanwhile get three more years of control over Escobar, who is a good candidate to bounce back toward his career norms those three seasons.
One can never be certain how the future will play out, and we may find out that Escobar has trouble making the adjustment to American League ball, but this is exactly the type of move a team like the Blue Jays, stuck in a division with the big-spending Yankees and Red Sox, needs to make to have any chance of competing with teams with far higher revenue streams who also know what they’re doing.
In the bottom end of the deal, I think the Braves got more (20-year-olds LHP Tim Collins and SS Tyler Pastornicky) than they gave up (25-year-old LHP Jo Jo Reyes), but it’s hardly enough to make up for the loss of Yunel Escobar over the next three seasons. Here’s a post from Tim Dierkes of mlbtraderumors.com describing the players at the bottom of the deal.