Yunel Escobar-Alex Gonzalez swap a definite win for Toronto

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Yunel Escobar for Alex Gonzalez certainly isn’t a deal anyone saw coming a year or two ago. Sure, the Braves had always had something of a love-hate relationship with their Cuban shortstop, but they had no shortage of opportunities to move him for promising players. To trade him now for an older, less-rangy shortstop having a fluke year seems like a waste.
That’s not to say it can’t work out. While Escobar’s 2008 and 2009 seasons were arguably better than any Gonzalez has had since reaching the majors in 1998, he has been a complete bust this year with no sign of breaking out. It’s remarkable just how little power he’s displayed. Everything off his bat seems to be a popup or a grounder to short. His always fine strikeout rate has held steady and his walk rate is up, but he just hasn’t hit the ball with authority at any point this year.
Gonzalez, on the other hand, has a chance to put up a 30-homer season. He struggles to make contact and he’ll weaken the OBP at the bottom of Atlanta’s lineup, but he’ll probably manage to drive in some of the runners that Escobar was leaving on base. He’s also a steadier defender than Escobar, even if he has made 11 errors to Escobar’s nine this year. He’s lost a step, particularly on up-the-middle grounders, but he remains rock solid.
What I find particularly interesting about the deal is that the Braves, the contending team, knew they were giving up the superior property and insisted on getting a couple of prospects in return. Atlanta also parted with left-hander Jo-Jo Reyes in the five-player swap, but there’s no way the Blue Jays would have traded Tim Collins and infielder Tyler Pastornicky for him. Reyes’ stock has plummeted, and he was essentially a throw-in.
Collins, a 5-foot-7 southpaw, has struck out 73 in 43 innings for Double-A New Hampshire this year. He has a chance to be considerably more than a specialist, as righties have hit just .158 off him. Despite his small frame, he works in the low-90s consistently, and he has a quality curve. He’s a fine relief prospect.
Pastornicky, 20, was a fifth-round pick in 2008. He’s hit .258/.348/.376 with 24 steals while splitting time between shortstop and second base for Single-A Dunedin this season. He doesn’t currently project as a regular, but there’s still some room for growth — he’s already taken a step forward in the power department this year — and he’s a pretty good bet to turn into a nifty utilityman if he doesn’t reach his ceiling.
Of course, I still believe this was a no-brainer for the Blue Jays. Escobar is likely to revert to being a better player than Gonzalez next season, and he’s under control through 2013. He won’t even make very much next year because he has been so bad so far this year. My guess is that he’ll go to at least one All-Star Game as a Blue Jay.
That said, I also really liked the Scott Rolen-for-Edwin Encarnacion deal last year, and that similar trade of an established veteran for an underperforming younger player hasn’t worked out so well to date.
For the Braves, it’s a short-term fix. Gonzalez’s $2.5 million option for 2011 will almost surely be picked up, so the Braves will have him then, too. Still, this trade all boils down to how well Gonzalez plays over these next 2 1/2 or, hopefully, 3 1/2 months. If he solidifies a position the Braves were getting nothing from to date and the team goes far into the postseason, then the deal will be worth it regardless of how well Escobar bounces back.

Marcus Stroman named World Baseball Classic MVP

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United States starter Marcus Stroman was named Most Valuable Player of the World Baseball Classic after helping lead the U.S. to its first ever WBC title on Wednesday night in an 8-0 victory over Puerto Rico. Stroman flirted with a no-hitter through six innings, but gave up a double to lead off the seventh before being relieved by Sam Dyson.

Stroman also pitched 4 2/3 scoreless innings against the Dominican Republic in Pool C play on March 11. He struggled in Pool F play against Puerto Rico last Friday, surrendering four runs in 4 2/3 innings.

The WBC MVP award understandably goes to a player of the winning team. However, Wladimir Balentien of the Netherlands deserves special mention. In 26 at-bats during the WBC, he hit a double and had a WBC-high four home runs, 12 RBI, and 12 runs scored while putting up a .615/.677/.1.115 batting line. That’s MVP-esque as far as this tournament is concerned.

U.S. blanks Puerto Rico 8-0 to win first World Baseball Classic title

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The United States handed Puerto Rico its first loss in the World Baseball Classic, winning 8-0 for its first title in the fourth iteration of the tournament.

Puerto Rico starter Seth Lugo was matching Marcus Stroman zero-for-zero through the first two innings, but the U.S. broke out for a pair of runs when Ian Kinsler deposited a two-run home run just beyond the fence in left-center at Dodger Stadium. The U.S. tacked on two more in the fifth on RBI singles from Christian Yelich and Andrew McCutchen, pushing the lead to 4-0.

Meanwhile, Stroman was dealing. The right-hander, normally seen in a Blue Jays uniform, held Puerto Rico hitless through his first six innings, giving up just a lone walk. The U.S. put together a long rally in the top of the seventh, scoring three runs on three hits, two walks, and a hit batter. Stroman came back out for the seventh but immediately served up a double down the left field line to Angel Pagan. U.S. manager Jim Leyland immediately lifted Stroman from the game, bringing in Sam Dyson who escaped the inning without any further damage.

Pat Neshek allowed a leadoff single to Yadier Molina to begin the eighth, but induced a double-play, then worked around a two-out walk by striking out Kenny Vargas to end the frame.

In the ninth, David Robertson took over. He induced an infield pop-up from Enrique Hernandez. After Pagan singled up the middle, Francisco Lindor sharply grounded out to Eric Hosmer at first base for the second out. Finally, Robertson closed it out, inducing Carlos Correa to ground out to third base, making the U.S. 8-0 victors over Puerto Rico to win the World Baseball Classic.

Puerto Rico had an admirable run, defeating Venezuela, Mexico, and Italy to get out of Pool D undefeated. Then, in Pool F, it beat Venezuela again as well as the U.S. and the Dominican Republic to move to the semifinals. It narrowly edged Netherlands 4-3 in the semifinals to get into the finals.

The U.S. lost to the D.R. but beat Canada and Colombia to get out of Pool C. In Pool F, the U.S. lost to Puerto Rico and defeated the D.R again as well as Venezuela. The U.S. took down Japan in the semifinals to advance to the finals to play Puerto Rico.

The U.S. joins Japan (twice, 2006 and ’09) and the Dominican Republic (2013) as countries to win the World Baseball Classic. The 2017 tournament was a rousing success, setting attendance records, drawing over one million fans to ballparks to take in the games. It will hopefully encourage commissioner Rob Manfred and others to make a concerted effort to make the 2021 tournament bigger and better.