Blue Jays overcommit to light-hitting McDonald

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mcdonald diving.jpgAlex Anthopoulos is a historically young general manager at 32, but his first significant move as the Jays’ decision-maker was certainly rooted in traditional, old-school thinking.
On Wednesday, the Blue Jays agreed to terms with veteran infielder John McDonald on a two-year, $3 million deal. It was known that the move was coming, but indications were that it would be a one-year pact.
McDonald is, of course, a defense-first infielder. He’s a career .238/.276/.317 hitter, which is awful even as far as utility infielders go. He somehow hit four homers last year, establishing a new career high. That gives him 13 total in 1,713 at-bats over the last 11 seasons, so he certainly better be a good glove man.
McDonald’s defense, though, isn’t what it used to be. He’s certainly not as quick at 35 as he was at 25. He’s still plenty reliable at shortstop, but his numbers in limited action the last two years aren’t as good as teammate Marco Scutaro’s. Say what you will about the unreliability defensive numbers, but it’s just common sense that McDonald is on the decline; he was never particularly fast and he’s probably getting a little slower with each passing year.
And that’s why it was a silly idea to hand him a two-year deal. Multiyear contracts for bench players work out poorly the vast majority of the time, and there couldn’t have been many teams knocking down McDonald’s door. If he did leave, there’s always an Omar Quintanilla-type out there to replace him.
With the deal, McDonald becomes, for the moment, the Jays’ starting shortstop. Scutaro isn’t expected back, and there is some chance that the Jays could go with McDonald as a starter rather than sign one of the mediocre veterans available. Ideally, they’d pick up a young, ready-to-play shortstop in a deal involving Roy Halladay or Lyle Overbay. However, there aren’t that many available, particularly on the teams that are looking to add Halladay.

Orioles sign Alcides Escobar

Alcides Escobar
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The Orioles have inked shortstop Alcides Escobar to a minor league contract, MLB.com’s Joe Trezza reported Saturday. The deal comes with an invitation to spring training and will allow Escobar to earn $700,000 in the majors if he breaks camp with the team (via Jon Heyman of MLB Network). The team has yet to formally announce the agreement.

Escobar, 32, completed an eight-year run with the Royals in 2018. No longer the .280-average, 3.0-fWAR player of seasons past, he hit several career lows after batting .231/.279/.313 with four home runs, eight stolen bases (in 10 chances), and a .593 OPS through 531 plate appearances last year. His defensive ratings also took a hit, and FanGraphs pegged him as the fourth-worst shortstop in the majors after he accumulated -12 DRS over the course of the season, only slightly higher than the Orioles/Dodgers’ Manny Machado, Mets’ Amed Rosario, and Red Sox’ Xander Bogaerts.

Still, Heyman holds that Escobar is being considered for the starting gig this spring and could yet prove an upgrade over top prospects and infield candidates Richie Martin and Drew Jackson. At the very least, the veteran shortstop figures to stabilize the position given Martin and Jackson’s relative inexperience, as both infielders played to varying results in Double-A Tulsa last year and have yet to break into the majors. Should either player earn consideration for the position in camp, however, Escobar might still work his way onto the Opening Day roster in a utility role as he saw some time at third base, second base, and center field in 2018.