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.

Neal Huntington thinks players should be allowed to re-enter games after concussion testing

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Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli, who has suffered many concussions throughout his 12-year career, was hit on the back of the helmet on a Joc Pederson backswing Saturday against the Dodgers. Through Cervelli remained in the game initially, he took himself out of the game shortly thereafter and went on the seven-day concussion injured list on Sunday.

Perhaps inspired by Saturday’s event, Pirates GM Neal Huntington suggested that players should be allowed to re-enter games once they have passed concussion tests, the Associated Press reports. Huntington said, “Any player that had an obvious concussion risk incident should be allowed to be removed from the game, taken off the field, taken into the locker room, assessed by a doctor, assessed by a trainer, go through an extended period of time and then re-enter the game. Because right now, all of this has to happen on the field.”

Huntington added, “The player has to feel pressure as he’s standing there with 30,000 or 10,000 or 50,000 eyes on him. He has to feel pressure to make a decision whether (he’s) in or (he’s) out of this game. He knows if he takes himself out and he’s the catcher, there’s only one other catcher, and the game becomes a fiasco if that other catcher gets hurt.”

Huntington, who has been forward-thinking on a number of other issues, has it wrong here. The concussion protocols were created because players frequently hid or under-reported their injuries in order to remain in the game. Especially for younger or otherwise less-proven players, there is pressure to have to constantly perform in order to keep one’s job. Furthermore, there is an overarching sentiment across sports that taking time off due to injury makes one weak. Similarly, playing while injured is seen as tough and masculine. Creating protocols that take the decision-making out of players’ hands keeps them from making decisions that aren’t in their own best interests. Removing them would bring back that pressure for players to hide or minimize their ailments. If anything, MLB’s concussion protocols should become more stringent, not more relaxed.

The powers that be with Major League Baseball have no doubt followed the concussion scandal surrounding the National Football League. In January, the NFL settled for over $1 billion with retired players dealing with traumatic brain injuries, including dementia, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. For years, the league refused to acknowledge the link between playing football and CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), which is a neurodegenerative disease that can lead to dementia and has many negative effects, such as increasing the risk of suicide. Since baseball isn’t often a contact sport, MLB doesn’t have to worry about brain injuries to this degree, but it still needs to take preventative measures in order to avoid billion-dollar lawsuits as well as avoiding P.R. damage. In December 2012, former major league outfielder Ryan Freel committed suicide. Freel, who claimed to have suffered as many as 10 concussions, suffered from CTE. MLB players can suffer brain injuries just like football players.

Huntington seems to be worried about not having enough rostered catchers in the event one or two catchers get injured. That is really an issue of roster management. Carrying only two catchers on the roster is a calculated risk, often justified. Huntington can ensure his team never has to be put in the position of not having a catcher in an emergency by rostering a third catcher. Rosters are expanding to 26 players next year, by the way.