Gonzalez improves Braves now but dealing Escobar is risk

Yunel Escobar was suffering through a slump this year.

Yunel Escobar was suffering through a slump this year.

When Yunel Escobar is at the top of his game — and we saw the top of his game last season — he may be the Braves’ best all-around player. What general manager Frank Wren just did was take a risk that Escobar won’t see that upside again somewhere else.

Wren opened the second-half of the season with a stunning five-player trade with Toronto. The principals of the deal are both shortstops: The slumping Escobar goes to the Blue Jays. Alex Gonzalez comes back to the Braves.

It will be a while before the dust settles on this one.

Wren called Gonzalez “an outstanding shortstop” and a “very dangerous hitter.”

He added, “Speaking with [manager] Bobby [Cox], he’s a guy who Bobby says when he

Alex Gonzalez brings the Braves more immediate power to their lineup.

Alex Gonzalez brings the Braves some immediate power.

comes to the plate you get the feeling that something will always happen.”

The Braves used to get that feeling about Escobar. Remember last season? He hit .299 with 14 homers and 76 RBIs. He hit .373 with runners in scoring position — which ranked third in the majors — and .335 with runners on base.

How quickly they forget.

When asked on a conference call if he was concerned that Escobar will reach his potential elsewhere, Wren said: “He very well may. He’s a talented guy. But for our ballclub right now we feel like we needed to make some adjustments.”

Let me translate: The Braves aren’t overly confident that Escobar will return to form after the All-Star break. They’re less concerned about him burning them further down the road than they are him hurting them in the pennant race this year. So they opted for a veteran, Gonzalez, who brings with him power and stability.

Wren again: “For the short term, this really improves our ball club.”

The Braves are giving up some age. Gonzalez is 33. Escobar is 27. Gonzalez also will be a free agent after next season and chances are he’s short-term in Atlanta.

He certainly is a proven player. He was an All-Star with Florida and played on the Marlins’ World Series team in 2003. He missed all of the 2008 season with Cincinnati with a compression fracture in his left knee. He hit only .210 with the Reds last season but was dealt in August to Boston, where he hit .284. This season with Toronto, his average is a modest .259, though he has hit 17 homers and 25 doubles, which could provide needed punch for the Braves’ lineup. But he has been inconsistent offensively in his career.

Escobar hit .326, .288 and .299 in his first three seasons. But he has dropped to only .241 this year and has yet to hit a home run. Cox even dropped him to eighth in the batting order. He also remains prone to letting his emotions get the best of him, whether it’s a poor at-bat, a misplayed grounder or a disagreement with an official scorer’s decision.

The Braves have long known emotions, not talent, were Escobar’s issues. Until now, they were willing to deal with it. “I want the kid where I have to take something  out of him,” coach Terry Pendleton said in spring training. “I don’t want the ones who drag around. I don’t want to have to spend time trying to figure out how to make them go.”

Wren openly supported Escobar this past weekend when I spoke to him. “He’s a high-spirited guy,” he said. “Just watching him, he’s one of the best shortstops in the game. We know what we have in him. Players go through struggles. In the second half last year, he almost carried us.”

The suggestion: The Braves would stick by him. Either something changed or Wren wasn’t being completely honest.

Gonzalez has played on a World Series team. He “may not be as flashy” defensively as Escobar, Wren said, “but he’s an extremely solid defensive shortstop.”

So he might be the safe choice right now. In that sense, if the Braves believe they have a chance to make a special run this season, this could be seen as the right move. But down the line, this one could come back to haunt them.

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC and Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

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315 comments Add your comment

Atticus

July 14th, 2010
12:39 pm

I don’t see Escobar turning into a big time player here. Good trade

Atticus

July 14th, 2010
12:39 pm

Oh…and whatever that stupid first thing is…done

Herschel Talker

July 14th, 2010
12:42 pm

Schultzie:

I guess you couldn’t wait until tomorrow!

HT

Sonny Clusters

July 14th, 2010
12:43 pm

We was really shocked!

adam

July 14th, 2010
12:43 pm

Hope this one doesn’t bite us in the @ss!

Clay

July 14th, 2010
12:43 pm

I like Escobar, but this is a good trade. The Braves have morphed into a scrappy, hustling team, and Yunel just doesn’t fit anymore. Our new model is the Heinski, Prado, Infante, Heyward types. And remember, we’ve got the 18 year old sensation coming in a couple of years …

now tha't funny

July 14th, 2010
12:45 pm

Lets’s see, the goal is to win championships. We just traded 0 homers for 17. Not bad.

Sonny Clusters

July 14th, 2010
12:46 pm

The left side is pretty old right about now and with some bad knees and obliques and thumbs and toes and hamstrings and wrists and ankles and such. Wren is trying to win it this year and that’s okay with us.

Hillbilly Deluxe

July 14th, 2010
12:48 pm

I’m not a Braves fan but one thing I’ve noticed over the years is that they don’t tolerate people who don’t play hard. This proves it again.

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

July 14th, 2010
12:48 pm

Wren is thinking about 2010, which is what he should do. We cannot sit around and wait for Escobar to become better. Plus we got rid of JoJo and received 2 minors- works for me.

Ted Striker

July 14th, 2010
12:49 pm

I don’t really favor the trade but won’t knock it. There are sometimes factors in a situation that the general public isn’t aware of. Plus, hindsight makes us all experts.

ExecutiveStinger

July 14th, 2010
12:49 pm

No risks here Schultz, addition by subtraction. Escobar is a decent individual player, but he is not a winning, team player. Too many mental lapses over the years, and a selfish, defiant streak that we don’t need. Alex Gonzalez is 33 years old, resignable, a huge offensive upgrade, and exactly what we need to take capitalize on that home field advantage that B-Mac got us last night!

Steve in Utah

July 14th, 2010
12:50 pm

It won’t haunt us as much as seeing Elvis Andrus as an All-Star for Texas last night. Good move, right time — we have solid offensive threats at both middle INF positions. Now Bobby has the flexibility to move Chipper around in the lineup and either have Gonzo bat third through seventh in the lineup.

Bob Didier Caught Here

July 14th, 2010
12:56 pm

Shultzie,

I will ask you what I asked your colleague MB. What do you think the Blue Jays saw in W Escobar that would have caused this trade. Obviously they think he can bounce back. Maybe a change in scenery will equal a change in attitude. Obviously AG isn’t the long term answer. BTW, when does AG’s contract expire with the Bleu Jays?

Dr. Warren

July 14th, 2010
12:57 pm

Does this move indicate Wren himself might not be planning to be here long-term? They’re going for broke this year, that is for sure.

freshd

July 14th, 2010
12:57 pm

good move, because the braves best shortstop was playing in the all star game last night for the Texas Rangers, his name, ELVIS ANDRUS. he sure would have looked good in a Braves uniform.

enz

July 14th, 2010
12:58 pm

They’re building to win this year while we have a good start in the first half in the NL East. Escobar was all hype and no substance. We now have a new HR leader and a player that comes in second in RBI’s on our team. We should be excited because these Braves are showing us that this can be the year!

Steve

July 14th, 2010
12:58 pm

Good points Jeff. From what I hear though he had the worst attitude and as we all know, he did not hustle. Bobby hates that. Getting rid of Escobar was actually in the works for three or four weeks.

mudcat

July 14th, 2010
12:59 pm

We get a power-hitting SS and two decent prospects for two super-underachieving players, and your downgrading the move?!?! You nuts?

Furman Bitcher

July 14th, 2010
1:01 pm

Jeff, If the Braves go to the series and Gonzalez is a key to this then it doesnt matter what Yunel does in the future. If we dont make the playoffs and Yunel turns into Cal Ripken Jr. then you have an arguement.

GT Alum

July 14th, 2010
1:02 pm

If this was a straight-up trade, I’d be really disappointed. Gonzalez gives us about 20 extra points on the BA and some extra power, but not really more than what Yunel can do when he’s going right. The pitcher we got sounds like a good prospect, though. The ss prospect isn’t exactly tearing it up in the minors; i don’t know how good he’s supposed to be. And we all know JoJo had virtually no future in Atlanta.

Peter

July 14th, 2010
1:02 pm

Belated welcome back Jeff, we missed you. You know fans in Atlanta sometimes live “in the moment” too much. Just looking at all of the All – Stars last night who used to be in the Atlanta system that were traded because “Yoo hoo they’re (Braves) are going for it” should have been a “wait and see” moment for the team. Escobar was a second – half player for us last season.

Toronto is in reality a horrible hitting team that swings for the fences, strikes out a lot and is on pace to set a record for innings of three up and three down. Not every prospect acquired in these deals are “great” prospects. Funny how time tells on these things..when Tex trade was made all of the blogs were certain that that trade would “put us over the top” and Tex would give the Braves a “home town discount” despite the fact that this wasn’t his home. Good teams aren’t great if you’re not great at SS. Think Wren did well in rebuilding a poor pitching staff but this is a long term wait and see.

Furman Bitcher

July 14th, 2010
1:06 pm

Here is the headline on espn.com
“Braves get shortstop Gonzalez from Blue Jays”

Not “Braves give up a guy with huge upside for a 33 yr old SS”

This is a solid move

MERCULF

July 14th, 2010
1:09 pm

What’s not to like about this? I hate to see any Brave get traded away once they have worked their way into my heart as a fan but I would like to see the Braves WIN IT ALL for Bobby this year!

Cracker Jacket

July 14th, 2010
1:09 pm

Good to get rid of a Bad apple!

jarvis

July 14th, 2010
1:11 pm

Thank you Mr. Hannity. I tend to agree with Mr. Colmes on this one.

Rey

July 14th, 2010
1:11 pm

Please excuse me if I don’t feel all warm and fuzzy inside over this trade.

Escobar was a great SS going through a bit of a slump. The guy has tremendous upside and we just traded him away. Wow….Very questionable move.

Dawgs2010

July 14th, 2010
1:12 pm

Jeff, you seem to be spliting hairs and reaching a bit. Is your assignment today to write an article that is opposite of Bradley’s.

Devil’s advocate perhaps?

You are such a cry-baby!

Matt

July 14th, 2010
1:14 pm

Gonzales has a team option next year for 2.5 million

David

July 14th, 2010
1:16 pm

1-Prado
2-Gonzales
3-Chipper
4-Glaus
5-McCann
6-Heyward
7-Diaz/Infante
8-Cabrera

1135203 The Fan

July 14th, 2010
1:16 pm

Oops — no Cubans north of the border.

Sorry, Escobar — you’ll still be pining in Toronto.

Joe Blow

July 14th, 2010
1:18 pm

The fact that Escobar, after all this time in Atlanta, has not learned enough English to speak to Wren says a lot about him. He’s a punk who deserves to be sent away. I question whether you can build a successful team with someone like that as the SS.

On the other hand, name all the teams who have won the World Series with a 33 year old shortstop. There’s Jeter and not a lot more.

ABravesFan

July 14th, 2010
1:20 pm

I’m perfectly fine with this go all-in mentality this year, yet I still have some reservation that Alex Gonzalez will be an upgrade over Yunel Escobar for the second half of this year. I do think the team is good enough regardless of who’s hitting at SS (we do need to have solid defense, though).

For the record, I would not be surprised if both Yunel and Yo-Yo (I mean Jo-Jo) both turns out to have some decent years down the line.

GT Alum

July 14th, 2010
1:21 pm

Holy cow, ESPN.com already has Gonzalez in a Braves cap.

mgar

July 14th, 2010
1:22 pm

I think what sealed the deal for Escobar was the lob throw to first on the Franceaur grounder that almost got Glaus hurt in the Mets series. I think those type of bone-headed plays were starting to get old with the rest of the team. I mean how many times do we have to see the camera shot of Escobar sitting by himself in the dugout before we realize his relationship with the rest of the team.

Joe Blow

July 14th, 2010
1:22 pm

Oh, I found this on the internet:

Shortstop is a young man’s position. I tracked the shortstops for all World Series teams since 1990. The average age for the shortstops on those World Series teams was 27.7. The oldest were Derek Jeter, last year, at age 35, and Walt Weiss, 35, who was a part-time starter for the Braves back in 1999. Mike Bordick was a part-time shortstop at age 34 for the Mets in 2000. Next were some 31’s: Red Sox’ Julio Lugo in 2007, Cardinals’ David Eckstein in 2006, Diamondbacks’ Tony Womack in 2001, and Blue Jays’ Tony Fernandez in 1993.

So, who knows? The odds are, though that a 33 year old SS is not a good bet.

boots

July 14th, 2010
1:22 pm

Enter your comments here

Mark Bradley

July 14th, 2010
1:23 pm

Come and read my my blog on this. It makes no sense as do most of my posts.

GT Alum

July 14th, 2010
1:24 pm

In the couple of lineups I’ve seen posted on the various blogs, why does everyone keep putting Gonzalez in the 2 spot? You really want to put a guy who has a bad BA and OBP but more HRs than anyone else on the team in the 2 hole?

I would expect

1-Prado
2-Heyward
3-Chipper
4-Glaus
5-McCann
6-Gonzalez
7-Diaz/Infante/Hinske
8-Cabrera/McClouth/Blanco

Marty

July 14th, 2010
1:24 pm

Escobar almost putting Glaus out for the season last week on a routine play was the last straw. Looked like a reincarnation of Kenny Lofton in a Braves uniform to me. If you didn’t see this trade coming, you haven’t been watching the Braves very close this season. Great trade!

boots

July 14th, 2010
1:26 pm

What trade involving a starter isn’t risky? They are risky by nature, but the Braves NEEDED to take a risk to make a legit run in the post-season. They are good enough to win the division, maybe, but they are not good enough to run the table. Are they there yet? No. They still need a solid power hitter in the OF, but they are closer than they were yesterday, and that is what is important. Btw, the other parts of the trade are clear steps ahead for the organization. Sucks for Yunel. The Cuban defector is now living in Toronto. Brrrr…. Buy some wool sweaters, Yunel. You will need them.

Tucker T

July 14th, 2010
1:27 pm

DOB is reporting that Escobar had worn out his welcome in the clubhouse. He was a pouty emotional player that didn’t fit in. This trade was as much about team chemistry as it was about numbers. I never liked the guy. I thought he was a show off and full of himself and I’m glad he is gone.

Drew

July 14th, 2010
1:28 pm

David:

Switch Chipper with a healthy Heyward.

Casey

July 14th, 2010
1:28 pm

Counting on Escobar to be our SS of the future would’ve also been a risk. I love this trade!! So Gonzalez is not long term… Escobar wasn’t either!

Jeff Schultz

July 14th, 2010
1:28 pm

Sorry folks. Had to write-thru (journalism term) and added some quotes, etc. May update further. I’ll try to get back to some of your comments shortly. Wow. I mean, this really came out of left field. Pretty sure NOBODY saw this deal coming. Wren said Escobar was “pretty shocked.”

keith

July 14th, 2010
1:29 pm

It’s like a blog responder said in another blog…for Escobar it’s “great play, great play, dumb play, great play, dumb play.”

I think about how there have been situations like the terrible throw last week, him not tagging at 3rd, hitting the ball to the left side of the field with 2nd and 3rd, 0 outs…..and I wish him the best.

THink of it this way: WE just inherited a new HR leader on the team. Hope Alex’s career year continues and this will be a good trade!

SimpleDawg

July 14th, 2010
1:30 pm

Too bad Elvis was sent away…….

keith

July 14th, 2010
1:30 pm

Jeff,

this deal was part of the rumor mill last week actually….if you have the luxury of reading some of the other sports sites…

NikkiFree

July 14th, 2010
1:31 pm

Yunel, his attitude, and his disappointing performance on the field are all in our collective rearview mirror. Yeah!

kimmer

July 14th, 2010
1:32 pm

So what if he does achieve that ‘upside’ at Toronto. He will be in the AL where we won’t have to face him in the post-season unless its in the WS.

The reality right now is that Gonzalez is already there. Escobar isn’t. You gotta go with what is reality now not what it might be.