Yunel Escobar is, shall we say, a different sort of Brave. He has blond highlights in his hair. He doesn’t always pay attention. He has a temper and is given to the sulks. He has yet to respond to the gentle urgings of Bobby Cox, which have become less gentle over time.
According to Buster Olney of ESPN.com, the Braves “are willing to trade Escobar for a good hitter right now.” (Link requires registration.) But I don’t think they will. Nor do I believe they should. Because Yunel Escobar is a different sort of Brave in another way:
He can really hit. And he can really play.
The Braves have become so skilled at siphoning off higher-maintenance types that they have lesser tolerance for one than do, say, the Yankees or the Dodgers. But sometimes a higher level of maintenance isn’t just needed but advisable. Some guys are worth the trouble. John Rocker was not. Yunel Escobar is.
He’s a great talent who comes with an inherent disconnect. He doesn’t speak much English. (He’s from Cuba.) When Cox seeks to instruct Escobar in the need to pay closer attention, he has to converse through coach Chino Cadahia. That isn’t the optimum method.
But you know what? If big-league rosters were comprised of 25 Ozzie Smiths, you wouldn’t need managers or coaches. Sometimes a little instruction is needed, sometimes even a lot of instruction
The Braves have this problem, the past two nights notwithstanding. (As bad as the Braves are at hitting, the Phillies are worse at pitching.) They can’t hit much, and they, as constituted, aren’t apt to hit much. At worst, Escobar is the third-best hitter on the club. If the Braves trade him, they’d have to get Matt Holliday or Brad Hawpe or Adam Dunn in return. And even if they’d land one of those thumpers, there’s another issue:
Those guys are outfielders. Escobar is a shortstop. He mans the most important defensive position. And there’s no other shortstop prospect at the ready in the Braves’ chain. (There would be if the Braves hadn’t sent Elvis Andrus to Texas for Mark Teixeira in 2007, but that’s another Hot Button for another day.)
Put simply, Escobar is too important for the Braves to let him go or to let him fail. With his recent displays of anger and indifference and the mysterious nature of his hip injury, the temptation is great for them to throw up their corporate hands and say, “That’s it! Get him outta here!” But this is professional sports, not the Boys and Girls Club. The idea is to win, and the Braves need Escobar to have that chance.
The Braves have already gone the extra mile, but they should prepare themselves to run a 10K if that’s what it takes. He’s not as young as you might think — he’s 26 — and his excesses might be more deeply ingrained than in a 21-year-old. But that’s why managers get the big bucks. They’re paid to reach all their guys, not just the receptive ones.
There’s a big-time ballplayer beneath the garish hair and the excesses. The Braves just have to find him.
Update from the ballpark: Escobar is in tonight’s starting lineup. He’s batting fifth.