The Athletics were awarded a waiver claim on Yunel Escobar this weekend, but Rays manager Joe Maddon tells reporters, including Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, that Escobar will not be traded via waivers this month (Twitter link).
The 31-year-old Escobar is controlled through the 2016 season at annual rates of $5MM (2015) and $7MM (2016) with a $7MM club option or $1MM buyout for the 2017 season. Those salaries are the result of an extension inked by Escobar earlier this season, but his production thus far likely hasn’t been what the Rays were expecting.
Escobar has batted just .253/.317/.318 this season — numbers that are far inferior to the .256/.332/.366 batting line he posted for Tampa in 2013. However, Escobar hasn’t been known for his bat for quite some time. Rather, his value has been in providing top-tier defense at shortstop, but metrics such as Ultimate Zone Rating (-13.9 runs) and Defensive Runs Saved (-18 runs) feel he’s been well below average in that regard as well in 2014. Single-season samples of defensive metrics rarely tell the entire story of a player’s defense, however, and this is the first year in which Escobar has posted anything but a positive total in either metric. He’s been bothered by shoulder problems this season, which could have had some impact on both his swing and his throws across the diamond (though his range appears to be the culprit on defense, based on his Fangraphs fielding page).
Oakland has been using Andy Parrino at short of late due to a fractured finger from regular shortstop Jed Lowrie. The fact that Lowrie is a free agent at season’s end could also have played a part in the Athletics’ decision to claim Escobar, as his affordable salaries for the coming seasons would fit well within Oakland’s typically tight payroll. However, as Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reported earlier this morning, Lowrie could soon begin throwing, which would give him a chance to play by the end of the month.
It’s possible that the Rays could move Escobar this offseason if they feel they can find a suitable alternative on the free agent market, or if they feel that veteran Ben Zobrist or trade acquisition Nick Franklin can hold down the fort at shortstop. However, Zobrist hasn’t been a regular shortstop in years, and scouts have long questioned whether or not Franklin can handle short. Many feel that his ultimate position will be second base.