Since baseball’s “second half” starts tonight, with the Braves opening a series against Milwaukee, I figured we would just go all-baseball in this corner of the blogosphere this morning. Entry No. 1: Most of the baseball world loves the Yunel Escobar-Alex Gonzalez trade from the Braves’ perspective.
I weighed in yesterday with my view. The deal likely helps the Braves today -- given Escobar is struggling and Gonzalez is a steady, even if offensively inconsistent, veteran who has played for a World Series team (Florida). The danger is that Gonzalez probably is only short-term for the Braves (he’s 33 and a free agent after next season) and Escobar (voted the team’s MVP last season) has seemingly limitless talent and could become the player the Braves once envisioned somewhere else.
Before I get to the clips, here’s my question for you: Do you believe Gonzalez represents the final piece the Braves need to get back to the World Series this season?
While you ponder the answer, here are some trade reviews:
♦ From ESPN’s Buster Olney, the best national baseball writer in the business, in my view:
An Atlanta teammate once had a birthday, and when Escobar offered best wishes, that teammate told Escobar he knew exactly what present he wanted from the shortstop: Just play hard today. That the Braves’ players came to view consistent effort from the 27-year-old infielder as a gift is not a great reflection on Escobar, especially given the reputation of the Atlanta clubhouse. It’s an easy place to exist, to thrive, and has been for many years. Bobby Cox likes players; some managers don’t. And the most prominent veterans on the team, like Chipper Jones and Tim Hudson and Billy Wagner and Brian McCann, are all reasonable and relatively laid back, tolerant of different personalities so long as the effort is there. And too many times, the effort from Escobar was not evident, which is why the Braves decided to trade a younger shortstop with a theoretically higher ceiling for a 33-year-old shortstop. Gonzalez has struggled to stay healthy at times, and he sometimes has a hard time finding his way on base. But he is steady defensively and less apt to make the kind of mental mistakes that Escobar was guilty of time after time after time. Gonzalez has power, and he can do damage, but above and beyond that, nobody is going to wonder whether he cares, whether he is going to play hard; this had become the daily question about Escobar.
♦ From Jeff Blair, long-time baseball writer for the Toronto Globe and Mail:
A shortstop. Of course it would have to be a shortstop. In his eight years as the Blue Jays’ general manager, J.P. Ricciardi had 19 different shortstops who started games. Nineteen. … “We think he has a chance to be a core player,” [general manager] Alex Anthopoulos said after announcing he had acquired shortstop Escobar and pitcher Jo-Jo Reyes from the Atlanta Braves. To which I can only say, well, that would be a first. Because “core” player and Blue Jays shortstop don’t go together. The truth about this trade is that unless you’re a Braves fan, there is no reason to get too excited either way. Escobar has a ton of baggage, but as Anthopoulos said, so did Jose Bautista when he came to the Blue Jays from the Pittsburgh Pirates. Two things you need to know about baseball people: They all think they can reinvent the wheel, and if they’re going to misread a player, more often than not it will be a Latino. Remember how Pedro Martinez was too slight to hold up as a starting pitcher? That’s what the Los Angeles Dodgers thought about him, and they did Latin America better than most teams at that time. The two happiest people in all this? Gonzalez, who is now in a pennant race, and the Braves’ Bobby Cox, who is retiring as manager at the end of the season and is rid of a player he thought was lazy.
♦ From Danny Knobler of CBS Sports:
The Braves were sure Escobar was their shortstop for many years to come. They were so sure of it that even this spring, they were justifying the decision to include Elvis Andrus in the 2007 Mark Teixeira trade by saying that they never thought Andrus would unseat Escobar. Now, four months later, they’ve traded Escobar away, for a significantly older, but steady, journeyman. Huh? Hang on, because in another way, this Escobar-Gonzalez trade makes all the sense in the world. And not just because Gonzalez is leading Escobar in 2010 home runs, 17-0. The Red Sox will tell you how much last year’s midseason trade for Gonzalez stabilized their infield and was a huge key in carrying them to the playoffs. But let’s be serious. To trade 27-year-old Escobar for 33-year-old Gonzalez is to acknowledge that Escobar wasn’t becoming the player the Braves thought he was. More than that, it’s to acknowledge that Escobar just didn’t fit. There were the times [Escobar] was more concerned about his own errors than with whether the team was winning or losing. He may still develop into the player the Braves thought they had. The talent is there. The Blue Jays, still trying to build for some sort of future, can afford to take that chance.
♦From Andy Hutchins of Sporting News:
It’s hard to argue that Escobar is worse at baseball than Gonzalez. Escobar’s got a much higher career Weighted On Base Average (.342 to .299) and had accrued more Wins Above Replacement in his three seasons in the majors (10.1) before 2010 than Gonzalez had in his 11 pre-2010 seasons (9.7). And then there’s the matter of age: Escobar is 27 and Gonzalez is 33. So swapping the two players and assorted spare parts would seem to be a trade the team receiving Escobar would win. And in the middle term, Toronto probably will. Escobar should produce more in the next two to three years for Toronto than Gonzalez will for the Braves. But the Braves might win it for now, because their objective is winning now. Gonzalez is more likely to help them do that this year. 2010 has been his best year since 2003, and he’s swatted 17 homers and compiled an impressive .491 slugging percentage. These are the numbers that compensate for his chronically low on-base percentage (.296 this year, .294 career) and impatience at the plate.
♦From Dave Fuller of the Toronto Sun:
“It was, Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos admitted, both “a risk and a gamble.” But he traded shortstop Gonzalez, who was having a near all-star season anyway, for a potential team MVP. Or, will shortstop Escobar, at 27 six years younger than Gonzalez, turn out to be just one more Blue Jays headache? A year ago, Escobar batted .299, with 26 doubles, 14 homers and 76 RBI — earning a team MVP citation from local writers covering the Braves. This season, those numbers tumbled. Anthopoulos is betting a change of scenery, a chance to play with an organization in a city where past Latin players “have thrived,” will blast Escobar out of his funk. Escobar, a Cuban, plays with a lot of emotion — which could, the GM said, make him an instant fan favorite. But, he can sulk a little, too, when things aren’t going his way. “If you look at the Cuban player, they play with a lot of flare, a lot of emotion, a lot of flash,” Anthopoulos said. “But I think it can be exciting for fans.”
I know most Braves fans had grown weary of Escobar’s antics and were overwhelmingly in favor the trade. So is it safe to say these reviews make you feel even better about the second half of the season?
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