Yunel Escobar Rumors

Rays Notes: Revenue, Balfour, Myers, Escobar

The Rays are facing an uphill battle to keep their franchise relevant in a market that may not truly be a big-league market, writes former MLBTR scribe Howard Megdal in a piece for USA Today. While ownership bet big on 2014 with an $80MM payroll that was seen as a lot for the Rays, that figure ranked just 25th in the Majors this season. The increasing payrolls around the game create a shrinking pathway for the Rays, Megdal writes, and with a stadium that conjures up memories of what the fan experience was like in the 1980s (plus the rejection of a prototype for an innovative new stadium), there appears to be little sign of things improving. The team has an exciting crop of young pitching that features the likes of Chris Archer, Alex Cobb, Drew Smyly, Jake Odorizzi, Jeremy Hellickson and a returning Matt Moore (in 2015), but Megdal wonders how long the team will be able to hold onto that group. Those who don’t sign extensions, after all, will see their price tags soar in arbitration at an ever-increasing rate, and offense is only getting more expensive. As such, the Rays’ lack of revenue — the team drew just 1.446MM fans this season — is a significant concern.

Here’s more on the Rays…

  • The Rays’ biggest needs heading into the offseason appear to be a power bat and a reliable reliever to deepen the back end of manager Joe Maddon’s bullpen, but Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times wonders if the Rays already have those pieces in the form of Wil Myers and Grant Balfour. Myers had a self-described “nightmare” of a season, but he’s looking forward to an offseason to rebuild his health and a clean slate in 2015. Meanwhile, Balfour has altered his mechanics and feels he’s found a groove in the season’s final month (three runs and a 12-to-2 K/BB ratio over his past 11 frames). Given his $7MM salary next season, a return to form for Balfour is crucial for the Rays, whose payroll will reportedly decline significantly.
  • After a scary looking knee injury on an attempt to avoid a tag at home plate, Yunel Escobar received good news, writes MLB.com’s Bill Chastain. An MRI showed no structural damage in his knee, and while he won’t play for the remainder of the season, he should be fine going forward. Manager Joe Maddon notes to Chastain that Escobar’s play picked up once the rumors of him being traded to the Athletics in August dissipated. Maddon called “Oakland-gate” a “tough moment” for Escobar, noting that he didn’t fully understand the situation. It may just be a coincidence, but Escobar did hit .301/.378/.479 with three of his seven homers this season from Aug. 27 on.

AL East Notes: Rays, Escobar, Johnson, Red Sox

In his Sunday column, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times writes that “the key to [the Rays'] offseason flexibility might be trades” before noting that Tampa would be eager to deal either Grant Balfour or Jose Molina if they opportunity presented itself. He also speculates that names such as Matt Joyce, Sean Rodriguez and Jeremy Hellickson are names to watch, and he wonders whether or not Desmond Jennings and even Wil Myers will be discussed in trades this winter as well.

Here’s more from Topkin’s piece and the rest of the AL East…

  • While trading Yunel Escobar to the A’s or letting him go on waivers might’ve been popular with Rays fans (and even some in the clubhouse, Topkin notes), the team held onto him for multiple reasons. Firstly, the Rays are confident that Escobar will rebound from a tough 2014 season next year. They also don’t trust Ben Zobrist at shortstop next year in his age-34 season and aren’t sold on Nick Franklin‘s defense at short. Nor are they certain whether or not Hak-Ju Lee and Tim Beckham will be ready in 2015. Beyond that, the Rays don’t feel they can replace Escobar for as cheap little as he stands to earn in 2015 ($5MM).
  • Kelly Johnson, who went to the Orioles as the key to a four-player deal Saturday night, is now headed to his fifth straight AL East team. He’s happy to be headed to a likely playoff team in Baltimore, he tells the Providence Journal’s Tim Britton. “It’s crazy,” says Johnson. “Obviously I’ll be familiar with the surroundings. … I’m obviously excited to be in a situation where you’re on a first-place team.”
  • In a second piece, Britton also looked at the struggles of Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley, and he spoke with Red Sox assistant GM Mike Hazen about whether or not the hardships experienced by that duo has led the Sox to reevaluate their evaluation process for young players. Hazen speaks at length about the league-wide decline of offense, the increase in defensive shifts and the progress made in scouting reports, noting that it’s tougher now for young players to break through.

Rays To Pull Yunel Escobar Back From Waivers

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.



Athletics Claim Yunel Escobar On Revocable Waivers

MONDAY: Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle also hears that a deal for Escobar is unlikely, in part due to the progress that Lowrie has made on his injured finger. Lowrie could begin throwing within the next couple of days, which could allow him to return by the end of August.

SUNDAY, 6:51pm: The Athletics and Rays don’t appear likely to reach agreement on a trade involving Escobar, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times tweets. If they can’t, Escobar would stay with the Rays.

1:48pm: The Athletics have claimed shortstop Yunel Escobar from the Rays on revocable waivers, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal tweets. That means the two teams will have until Tuesday afternoon to agree upon a trade, if they’re going to make one.

Escobar is making $5MM this season and is already signed to a two-year, $13MM deal for 2015 and 2016 that also includes a club option for 2017. He had been a solid, underappreciated player for several years before this one, but this season he’s struggled, hitting .250/.315/.316 while getting uncharacteristically bad marks for his defense — UZR had rated him as an above-average shortstop for seven straight seasons before this one, but this year he’s 14 runs below average. That figure might be somewhat fluky, but he’s nearly 32 and has also struggled offensively, suggesting he might be declining.

Given Escobar’s contract status, then, it’s a little surprising that the Athletics claimed him, but perhaps they feel he has rebound potential, and they do have a need at shortstop. Jed Lowrie is currently on the disabled list and will be a free agent after the season, and journeyman Andy Parrino has recently taken his place. The A’s also recently shipped top prospect Addison Russell to Chicago in the Jeff Samardzija deal.


Quick Hits: Escobar, Rodon, Prado, Colon, Rosario

25 years ago today, Bart Giamatti banned Pete Rose from Major League Baseball for life for gambling on the game. As Bleacher Report’s Scott Miller points out, the next year could be a turning point for Rose, as Rob Manfred replaces Bud Selig as commissioner and MLB prepares to host the All-Star Game in Cincinnati next July. Miller suggests it’s time for baseball to give its all-time hits leader a second chance. Here’s more from around the game.

  • The Athletics recently claimed Yunel Escobar from the Rays on revocable waivers, but Escobar does not want to play for Oakland, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman writes. “I am very concerned with Yunel having been selected on waivers by Oakland,” says Escobar’s agent, Alex Esteban. “While I believe Oakland is an excellent organization, I don’t feel that it is the best organization for him.” Esteban adds that Escobar has a good relationship with Rays manager Joe Maddon. Of course, Escobar does not have a no-trade clause and cannot block a trade to the A’s, but his disinterest in playing for them is one variable to keep in mind as the situation develops. Escobar has stayed out of trouble in Tampa, but he did not get along with Bobby Cox in Atlanta and received a suspension for a homophobic slur while playing for Toronto.
  • White Sox top prospect Carlos Rodon dominated Sunday in his second career start for Triple-A Charlotte. Rodon pitched four innings and struck out eight batters, including five of the last six he faced. Less than two months after signing as the third overall pick in the draft, Rodon is already pitching well at the highest level of the minor leagues.
  • Martin Prado and Brandon McCarthy have played well since the Yankees traded for them this summer, writes Barry M. Bloom of MLB.com. Prado played mostly third base with the Diamondbacks, but since being traded he’s played there sparingly, instead appearing more often in right field and at second base. That’s not surprising, given that the Yankees had acquired Chase Headley the previous week. “They talked to me about that the first day before I even stepped out on the field,” says Prado. “I had this experience in the past with the Braves. It’s not like I haven’t done it.”
  • The most likely destination for Bartolo Colon is either the Angels or Dodgers, one executive tells Adam Rubin of ESPN New York (via Twitter). The Tigers don’t have the money for him, Rubin writes. The Mets placed Colon on revocable waivers on Saturday. Rubin tweets that he does not think the Mets will get rid of Colon simply to avoid paying him his $11MM salary next year.
  • Wilin Rosario is dealing with a wrist injury just as he might be coming to a fork in the road with the Rockies, Nick Groke of the Denver Post writes. Rosario is eligible for arbitration after the season and he hasn’t made an overwhelming case to start next season, hitting .248/.289/.399 while concentrating on improving his defense. One element possibly in Rosario’s favor, though, is that there won’t be many good catchers available on the free agent market — Russell Martin is the only obvious starting-caliber catcher.

Stark’s Latest: Price, Phillies, O’s, Royals, Pirates

Jayson Stark of ESPN.com has a new Rumblings & Grumblings column posted in which he runs down a plethora of trade-related topics. You’ll need to read the full post to get all the information and analysis, but here are some of the highlights …

  • The Rays are waiting until next week to make any decisions on whether or not to trade ace David Price. However, as Stark points out, it could still be a difficult judgment call as to whether or not the Rays are close enough to go for it or far enough back to sell. Tampa is currently seven games back of the division lead and four and a half games back from a Wild Card berth.
  • One executive tells Stark that he’s convinced the team will move Price if they get a big enough offer. Said the exec, “They’ve really built their team by making these kinds of deals. But if the return they can get now is something they think they can get this winter, they’ll hold him.” Another exec tells Stark that waiting until the winter could reduce the return in a trade by 30 to 40 percent.
  • Stark runs down the possible landing spots for Price, calling the Dodgers the favorite, but noting that L.A. has said it will not part with both Joc Pederson and Corey Seager, even in a Price trade. The Mariners are the second choice, he notes, with the Cardinals listed third followed by the Giants and Blue Jays (both of whom are painted as long shots by Stark).
  • If the Rays do sell Price, they’ll be open for business and listen on a number of other players, including Ben Zobrist, Matt Joyce and Yunel Escobar. Their preference is to deal Price and Zobrist in separate trades, if that comes to pass.
  • The Phillies are the next team that everyone is watching, with nine players that could be moved but contractual problems surrounding many of them. Most execs feel the Phillies will eat money to facilitate deals and aren’t looking to just dump players on other clubs. Specifically, the team is in need of position-player prospects, one exec who has spoken with Philadelphia tells Stark.
  • Marlon Byrd is the most likely to be dealt, with the Mariners, Royals and Reds scouting him. The Reds, however, may not be able to take on Byrd’s remaining $3MM in 2014, and the Mariners and Royals are on his no-trade list.
  • Jonathan Papelbon and Cliff Lee aren’t likely to be dealt, executives tell Stark. In Lee’s case, they feel he’s a lock to clear waivers. One exec tells Stark that he’d be more inclined to take a chance on Lee were he a free agent, but his contract is too risky at this point.
  • Cole Hamels isn’t likely to be dealt either. It’s not that the Phillies aren’t willing to move him, it’s just that the prices they’ve specified consist of packages “that no one would possibly give up.”
  • A.J. Burnett‘s preference is indeed to return to the Pirates, but Pittsburgh would need assurances that he’s not going to exercise his player option for 2015. The Orioles‘ interest is said to be lukewarm, while the Phillies asked the Yankees and were told, “No thanks.”
  • At least half a dozen teams are in on Antonio Bastardo, whom Stark concretely says will be traded in the next week.
  • The Orioles aren’t looking for a closer upgrade over Zach Britton, but they’re looking for a rotation upgrade and a lefty reliever that’s more than just a left-on-left specialist. They’ve shown no interest in dealing Hunter Harvey or Dylan Bundy.
  • The Royals have called on virtually every right-handed hitter on the market, but they’re look specifically at right fielders, including Byrd, Alex Rios, Chris Denorfia and Dayan Viciedo. The first two of those options still look most likely.
  • Stark would be surprised if the Pirates didn’t add at least one pitcher, if not two in the next week, but it’d have to be at least a No. 3 option in terms of starters. On the relief front, they’re looking at seventh-inning arms, as they’re content with Tony Watson in the eighth and Mark Melancon in the ninth.

AL East Notes: Santana, Lester, Yanks, Meek, Escobar

Last week, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported that several Blue Jays players were willing to defer their salary in order to help the team bring Ervin Santana on board, and it was later reported by Sportsnet's Shi Davidi that the group of Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey were the five who were willing to do so. Last night, Rosenthal added to the story, reporting that Santana was so close to heading to Toronto that the MLBPA had already approved the deferrals. Rosenthal again speculates on the possibility of Rogers Communications imposing a payroll limit on the 2014 Blue Jays, which would help explain their quiet offseason (which was previously examined by our own Mark Polishuk). Elsewhere in the AL East…

  • The Boston Herald's Gerry Callahan opines that while Jon Lester is clearly the No. 1 starter for the Red Sox, he's not elite and isn't worth the money he could make on the open market. Callahan writes that another team will "get stupid" with Lester, offering him something in excess of $130-140MM, and if talks get to that point, then Boston would be wise to emulate the A's or Rays instead of the Dodgers or Yankees, and let their high-priced star walk.
  • In a second column from Rosenthal, he looks at a number of topics that also pertain largely to the AL East, beginning firstly noting that we shouldn't expect to see the Yankees pursue any outside help after injuries to Mark Teixeira or David Robertson. The Yankees feel that both injuries will be short-lived, and therefore aren't looking strongly at Ryan Madson and/or Joel Hanrahan, nor are they considering trades for first basemen.
  • Also of interest to Yankees fans will be Rosenthal's look at the rise of Yangervis Solarte — a minor league signing who has experience an unlikely rise to prominence in the Majors. Solarte's agents, Chris Leible and Peter Greenberg of the Legacy Agency, recall that their initial representation of Solarte was merely a favor to his uncle, Roger Cedeno. At one point this offseason, the Yankees dropped out of the bidding for Solarte, who was highly sought after. However, he was recommended by three different scouts, and Leible encouraged him by advising that his best ticket to the Majors was in a utility role.
  • Rosenthal also looks at the long road back to the Majors for Evan Meek, who signed a minor league deal with the Orioles this offseason only after calling his former Pirates manager (and current O's bench coach) John Russell and asking for a look. He ultimately auditioned for seven or eight clubs, but chose to go to Baltimore.
  • Lastly, Rosenthal notes that the extension for Rays shortstop Yunel Escobar was "almost certainly" his own call rather than that of his agents at Miami Sports Management. He writes that Escobar seems to prefer even minor levels of security and would rather have his new guarantee than risk waiting until free agency to sign, even if the outcome could have been something along the lines of Omar Infante's four-year deal with the Royals this offseason.

Quick Hits: Sandoval, Escobar, Injuries, Twins

For some late night reading, I recommend this piece from Eric Nusbaum for Sports Illustrated, which provides an interesting profile of Cuba's fledgling sabermetric community. Here are some notes from around the league to round out the day:

  • Pablo Sandoval and the Giants remain far apart in their discussions on a possible extension for the pending free agent, reports Jon Morosi of FOX Sports (via Twitter). The third baseman is asking for a five-year contract to forego the right to hit the open market, where he would be one of the most attractive players available.
  • The Rays' recent extension of shortstop Yunel Escobar looks to be a win for the team, writes Matt Klaassen of Fangraphs. Given Escobar's history of being traded and signed for values that seem to be beneath his skill set, Klaassen wonders whether Tampa's ability to incorporate players with a reputation for clubhouse problems was a factor in Escobar's decision to approach the team about a new deal.
  • Two injury situations arose in tonight's Rays-Royals game that will be worth keeping an eye on in the coming days. First, Tampa starter Matt Moore left the game after experiencing elbow soreness in his pitching elbow. While initial reports have been positive, he will take an MRI tomorrow, Roger Mooney of the Tampa Tribune tweets. Later, Kansas City second baseman Omar Infante was struck on the chin by a pitch from Heath Bell. He is being examined to determine if he suffered a break, and the team also is concerned that he may have had a concussion, reports Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star (via Twitter). While it is still too early to speculate as to the impact of these up-in-the-air situations, any significant time missed by either player would obviously require some roster scrambling for their respective teams.
  • Twins president Dave St. Peter confirmed today that the club was aggressive on the free agent market beyond the signings that it completed, reports Derek Wetmore of 1500ESPN.com. St. Peter said that the club made "significant offer[s]" to Matt GarzaErvin SantanaA.J. Pierzynski, and Rajai Davis before those players signed elsewhere. "We offered more money to certain guys who chose to go elsewhere," said St. Peter. "It is what it is, but as the season progresses and we can do something that we think is a good baseball decision, the money will be there to allocate." Addressing the team's recent run of poor performance, St. Peter said it was not just about payroll. "At the end of the day, it's about making better baseball decisions," he said, "and obviously we haven't made enough good ones here over the last three or four years relative to certain trades and the way drafts have panned out."

Rays Extend Yunel Escobar

The Rays have announced that they've signed shortstop Yunel Escobar to a two-year extension that guarantees him $13MM. The deal pays Escobar $5MM in 2015 and $7MM in 2016, and includes a $7MM club option with a $1MM buyout for 2017. Escobar is represented by Miami Sports Management.

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Escobar will make $5MM in 2014 in the first option year of a two-year deal for 2012 and 2013 that included two options. His new contract will replace the $5MM team option for 2015 on his old one, so this new deal essentially locks the Rays in for that $5MM in 2015 while giving the Rays the rights to 2016 and potentially 2017 as well.

Escobar, 31, hit .256/.332/.366 for the Rays in 2013, but provided excellent value defensively — he posted a 10.7 UZR in 2013 and has been a consistently above-average defensive shortstop throughout his career. He typically provides little power but good on-base ability, with a .350 career on-base percentage to go with his strong defense. 2013 was Escobar's first season with the Rays, as the Blue Jays traded him to Miami in the Jose Reyes / Josh Johnson / Mark Buehrle blockbuster and the Marlins shipped him to Tampa for Derek Dietrich in December 2012.

The shortstop will enter the free agent market after his age-34 season if the Rays pick up the option. This is the second extension Tampa Bay has completed so far in 2014, having announced a six-year deal for pitcher Chris Archer this week.

Robbie Knopf of the Rays Colored Classes blog originally reported the deal. Roger Mooney of The Tampa Tribune was the first to report the value of the option and buyout (via Twitter).

Aaron Steen contributed to this post.


Rays, Escobar Have Had “Serious” Extension Talks

The Rays have already hammered out one extension recently, locking up right-hander Chris Archer to a six-year contract yesterday. Now, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports, via Twitter, that the club has also had serious extension talks with shortstop Yunel Escobar. While nothing is close with Escobar, who recently switched agencies and is now represented by Miami Sports Management, Topkin's source says an extension is still very possible.

The 31-year-old Escobar is controlled through the 2015 season via a $5MM club option — the final year of team control for Escobar on a two-year, $10MM extension with three separate $5MM club options signed midway through the 2011 campaign. That deal was signed with the Blue Jays, and since that time he's found himself traded to the Marlins and then the Rays (he never appeared in a game for Miami).

Escobar batted .256/.332/.366 last season in his first year with the Rays, belting nine homers and playing excellent defense at shortstop. Despite the pedestrian batting line, Escobar was valued at 3.3 rWAR and 3.9 fWAR due to his outstanding defensive contributions and the fact that his roughly league-average offensive production (97 OPS+, 100 wRC+) came from the shortstop position.

Escobar's six years, 121 days of Major League service upon entering the season are very close to the six years, 99 days that J.J. Hardy had when he signed a three-year, $22.5MM contract extension with the Orioles in July 2011. That contract is a bit outdated, but it could still serve as a reference point in negotiations between the two sides (my own speculation). Of course, Hardy was coming up on free agency at the time, whereas Escobar does have another year of team control remaining. And, while both are regarded as plus defenders at short, Hardy has considerably more pop in his bat, though it comes at the cost of a significantly lower OBP than Escobar's career mark of .350.

Robbie Knopf of Rays Colored Glasses first wrote about extension talks between the two sides yesterday afternoon.