Yunel Escobar is having a very good season, hitting .303/.380/.445 while rating slightly below average defensively according to Ultimate Zone Rating, which makes him one of the half-dozen most valuable shortstops in all of baseball as a 26-year-old.
However, he continues to frustrate manager Bobby Cox and the Braves with what Mark Bowman of MLB.com portrays as “a lackadaisical” attitude and “mental lapses.” Over the weekend he was benched mid-game for the second time this season, and here’s how Bowman described the scene:
Escobar moved gingerly out of the box when he grounded out to end the first inning. His slow approach might have prevented him from taking advantage of Chase Utley’s errant throw, which slightly pulled Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard off the bag.
Cox inserted Omar Infante to play shortstop before the start of the third inning. He said his decision to wait an inning was based on his desire to allow Infante to get loose. “I didn’t want to put anybody in just off the bench on the third out not loose,” Cox said.
Escobar’s name has been attached to various trade rumors for the past year or so, and if the Braves are truly tiring of his act there should be no shortage of teams lining up to take him off their hands. Among all big-league shortstops with at least 1,000 plate appearances during the past three seasons, here’s how Escobar ranks in batting average, on-base percentage, and adjusted OPS+:
AVG OBP OPS+
Hanley Ramirez .327 Hanley Ramirez .400 Hanley Ramirez 148
Derek Jeter .317 Derek Jeter .383 Derek Jeter 117
Cristian Guzman .306 YUNEL ESCOBAR .376 YUNEL ESCOBAR 112
YUNEL ESCOBAR .303 Jose Reyes .356 Troy Tulowitzki 110
Miguel Tejada .293 Troy Tulowitzki .356 Jose Reyes 109
Couple things. First, Hanley Ramirez is really good. Second, since his 2007 debut Escobar has hit .303 with a .376 on-base percentage and .429 slugging percentage. During that same time Derek Jeter has hit .317 with a .383 on-base percentage and .442 slugging percentage. Escobar is also a decade younger than Jeter, won’t even be eligible for salary arbitration until 2011, and is under team control for another four seasons.
He’s a 26-year-old career .303 hitter with a .376 OBP who’s averaged 12 homers and 31 doubles per 150 games, draws plenty of walks while rarely striking out, has sure hands and decent range at shortstop, and won’t be a free agent until after 2013. All of which is why when it comes to long-term, team-building assets there aren’t five more valuable shortstops in baseball, annoying but ultimately mild transgressions included.
Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon hasn’t selected a fifth starter for his 2017 rotation yet, but told reporters that he could envision left-handers Brett Anderson and Mike Montgomery sharing the spot throughout the year. Neither pitcher was stretched out to the full 200-inning threshold last year, Maddon added, and suggested that the two could alternate innings out of the rotation and bullpen as needed (via MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat).
Anderson, 29, was acquired by the Cubs in January on a $3.5 million deal. He’s coming off a rough 2016, during which he underwent back surgery and missed all but 11 1/3 innings of his last season with the Dodgers. His last full, healthy year in the majors yielded a 3.69 ERA, 2.3 BB/9 and 5.8 SO/9 over 180 1/3 innings with Los Angeles in 2015.
Montgomery, meanwhile, is vying for a rotation spot after pitching almost exclusively from the bullpen during the second half of the Cubs’ 2016 run. The 27-year-old lefty put up a 2.82 ERA, 4.7 BB/9 and 8.9 SO/9 over 38 1/3 innings for Chicago last year, returning in the postseason to post a 3.14 ERA during the Cubs’ championship finish.
Maddon also mentioned the possibility of throwing a sixth starter into the mix, which would help prevent his other starters from getting overworked too early in the year. Either way, Anderson and Montgomery are expected to get a lot of looks early in spring training as rotation spots are finalized in the weeks leading up to Opening Day.
Orioles’ center fielder Michael Bourn is expected to be sidelined for four weeks while he rehabs a broken ring finger on his right hand, according to reports from the Baltimore Sun’s Peter Schmuck. Bourn broke the finger while playing catch with a football after a spring training workout.
The veteran outfielder re-signed with the club earlier this week on a minor league deal and was prepared to compete for a bench role this season. He’s in line to receive a $2 million salary if he makes the major league roster and can make an additional $3.5 million in incentives based on a set number of plate appearances. Now, however, his chances of cracking the roster out of spring training look considerably diminished, as his current timetable gives him an approximate return date of March 25 if all goes well.
Bourn had an impressive, if short-lived run with the Orioles following his trade to Baltimore last August, batting .283/.358/.435 with two home runs and a .793 OPS in 55 PA. While still somewhat removed from the totals that brought him an All-Star nod with the Braves in 2012, his defensive chops should give the Orioles some depth in center once he’s healthy again.