Yunel Escobar may have 'attitude problems' but he also has a track record of being a very good player

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Yunel Escobar made his big-league debut in 2007. Since then a total of 27 players have accumulated at least 1,000 plate appearances while seeing at least two-thirds of their starts at shortstop. Here’s how he ranks among those 27 shortstops in OPS:

Hanley Ramirez      .935
Troy Tulowitzki     .849
Derek Jeter         .813
Jimmy Rollins       .796
Jose Reyes          .787
YUNEL ESCOBAR       .771
Miguel Tejada       .760
Stephen Drew        .760
Rafael Furcal       .758
J.J. Hardy          .751

Escobar has the sixth-highest OPS among all shortstops during that time, behind only Hanley Ramirez, Troy Tulowitzki, Derek Jeter, Jimmy Rollins, and Jose Reyes. If you’re curious the man he was traded for, Alex Gonzalez, ranks 14th with a .737 OPS.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not suggesting that trades should be analyzed by OPS (you should read Matthew Pouliot’s in-depth analysis of the deal). However, what I am suggesting is that most of the mainstream analysis of the Escobar-for-Gonzalez swap yesterday didn’t really go beyond “Escobar had a bad first half” and “the Braves were sick of his attitude” while guys like Jon Heyman of SI.com and Buster Olney of ESPN.com deemed it a huge win for Atlanta.
Perhaps that type of shallow analysis shouldn’t be surprising at this point, because it’s prevalence is one of the driving forces behind why blogs and non-mainstream baseball outlets have thrived so much recently. Still, it seems odd that so many people are willing to take Escobar’s “attitude problem” as gospel and focus on three months of poor play while brushing aside the fact that he’s been one of the half-dozen best-hitting shortstops in all of baseball during his four-year career.
He’s also six years younger than Gonzalez, every bit as good defensively, and under team control for three more seasons. I think the Blue Jays did well to get a 27-year-old shortstop with an outstanding glove and track record of good hitting for a 33-year-old shortstop they signed for $3 million this offseason, but I’m open to the notion that the trade makes some sense for the Braves too. However, calling the trade a steal for Atlanta because Escobar rubbed people the wrong way in a career-worst first half ignores the previous three years of his career and 10 years of Gonzalez’s career.

What happens with all the players the Braves lost yesterday?

Braves
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Yesterday’s unprecedented sanctions leveled on the Atlanta Braves hit them pretty hard, but it also turned a dozen players into free agents. What happens to them now? Who can sign them? When? And for how much?

First off, they get to keep their signing bonuses the Braves gave them. It wasn’t their fault the Braves messed up so it would make no sense for them to have to pay the money back. As for their next team: anyone can, theoretically, sign them. As far as team choice, they are free agents in the most narrow sense of the term.

There are limits, however, because as young, international players, their signings are subject to those caps on each team’s international bonus money which were imposed a few years back. Each team now has a “pool” of finite dollars they can spend on such players and, once that money is spent, teams are severely limited as to what they can offer an international free agent. Each summer the bonus pools are reset and it starts anew.

Which, on the surface, would seem to create a problem for the 12 new free agents, seeing as though a lot of teams have already spent much if not all of their July 2017-18 bonus pools. The good news on that, though, is that Major League Baseball has made a couple of exceptions for these guys:

  • First, the first $200,000 of any of the 12 former Braves players will not be subject to signing pools, so that’s a bit of a break; and
  • Second, even though these players will all likely be signed during the 2017-18 bonus pool period, teams have the option of counting the bonus toward the 2018-19 period. They can’t combine the money from the two periods, but they can, essentially, put off the cost into next year for accounting purposes.

Which certainly opens things up for clubs and gives the players more options as far as places to land go. A club can decide whether or not the guys on the market now look better than the guys they’ve been scouting with an eye toward signing after July 2018 and get a jump on things. Likewise, teams don’t have to decide whether or not to take a run at, say, Shohei Ohtani, burning bonus money now, or instead going after a former Braves player. Ohtani’s money will apply now, the Braves player can be accounted for next year.

The new free agents are eligible to sign during a window that begins on December 5 and ends on Jan. 15. If a player hasn’t signed by then, he can still sign with any club but cannot get a bonus. If a player hasn’t signed anywhere by May 1, 2018, he has the option of re-signing with the Braves, though they can’t pay the guy a bonus either.

Ben Badler of Baseball America has a rundown of the top guys who are now free agents thanks to the Braves’ malfeasance. Kevin Maitan is the big name. The 17-year-old shortstop was considered the top overall international free agent last year, though his first year in the Braves minor league system was less-than-impressive. There are a lot of other promising players too. All of whom now can find new employers.