Yunel Escobar Rumors

Nationals Notes: Rizzo, Desmond, Mets

The Nationals’ “approach with Ian Desmond has not changed one bit since the end of last season,” GM Mike Rizzo told reporters (including MLB.com’s Bill Ladson) today during a conference call.  “Ian Desmond is our shortstop. He is the leader of our team. He is one of the best shortstops in all of baseball, and he is going to be the shortstop of the Washington Nationals. With that said, if a deal comes up that we can’t refuse, we will always look to improve ourselves for 2015 and beyond. But it’s hard to replace one of the best shortstops in all of baseball. The deal would have to be pretty elaborate not to have Ian Desmond on this team.”  Of course, such a “pretty elaborate” trade was reportedly discussed between the Nats, Mets and Rays earlier this winter that would’ve sent Desmond to the Mets.  Here’s some more from the nation’s capital…

  • While that three-team deal was scuttled when the Rays dealt Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar to Oakland, it’s still “not out of the question” that Desmond could be dealt to the Mets, Andy Martino of the New York Daily News tweets.  “Nothing is imminent” between the two sides, however.
  • Executives around the league who have spoken to the Nationals say the team is still trying to move Desmond, ESPN’s Jayson Stark reports (Twitter link).  The Nats’ claim that Escobar was acquired to play second base is “spin.”  During the conference call, Rizzo was confident that Escobar would fit into the Nationals’ clubhouse and have no problems adjusting to second base.
  • The Nationals’ acquisition of Escobar for Tyler Clippard is criticized by Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post.  Boswell opines that the trade was a “Plan C” option from a Nats team that couldn’t pull the trigger on preferred offseason moves, and that the trade threatens to weaken both the Nationals’ bullpen and their clubhouse chemistry.
  • Escobar’s presence also seems to imply that Desmond’s time in Washington could be up, as Boswell notes that a big extension for the star shortstop doesn’t seem to be forthcoming.  The ongoing dispute between the Nationals and Orioles about MASN broadcasting rights could be a reason why Desmond hasn’t been extended, as Boswell hears from two sources that the Lerner family is “almost phobic about knowing their future revenues before spending.”

Nationals, A’s Swap Tyler Clippard, Yunel Escobar

Yunel Escobar‘s tenure with the Athletics lasted all of five days, as he has now been traded to the Nationals in exchange for right-hander Tyler Clippard, the Nats announced on Wednesday.

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Escobar, of course, had only just been acquired by the Athletics this past weekend alongside Ben Zobrist in a trade that sent a prospect package headlined by Daniel Robertson to the Rays. A trade of Escobar likely means that infielder Marcus Semien, acquired by Oakland in their trade of Jeff Samardzija to the White Sox, will again be ticketed for an everyday role in the middle infield. Indeed, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle tweets that Semien will be the club’s shortstop, teaming with Zobrist to comprise the club’s double-play tandem.

As for the Nationals, the acquisition opens a number of avenues. First and foremost is that Escobar simply supplants Danny Espinosa as the team’s second baseman, pairing with All-Star shortstop Ian Desmond. In that scenario, Escobar, who is controlled through the 2016 season at a reasonable total of $13MM (plus an option for the 2017 season), could slide over to shortstop next year if Desmond signs elsewhere as a free agent. However, the possibility of an eventual Desmond trade cannot be outright ignored, as the Nats reportedly discussed a three-team swap with the Rays and Mets last weekend that would have netted them Escobar and Zobrist, with Desmond heading to New York.

The 32-year-old Escobar, typically a sound defender, had somewhat of a down season on both sides of the ball in 2014. Though he picked things up with the bat late in the season to salvage a .258/.324/.340 batting line (92 OPS+, 95 wRC+), he posted a UZR/150 of -26, and Defensive Runs Saved dinged him equally, rating him at -24 runs. However, Escobar also battled shoulder and knee problems last season and has otherwise always been regarded as an excellent defender, so while some will assume this to be age-related decline, there’s reason to believe that he could rebound in 2015.

Clippard, 30 next month, is projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz to earn $9.3MM in 2015 — his final year of team control before hitting free agency. Clippard has been a staple in the Nats’ bullpen dating back to 2009, pitching to a 2.64 ERA with 10.4 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 in that time, though his control has improved significantly since 2011. Despite being an extreme fly-ball pitcher, Clippard has never had a huge problem with home runs and will likely be able to avoid such problems at the spacious O.Co Coliseum. One large reason for his ability to keep the ball in the yard is that a number of his fly-balls are of the infield pop-up variety — 15.5 percent over the past six seasons and a whopping 19.3 percent in 2015. That trend figures to continue, given all of the space in Oakland’s park, as Fangraphs’ Dave Cameron notes (on Twitter).

This marks the second straight offseason in which the A’s have traded for a high-priced reliever, although the two deals are markedly different. Last winter, Oakland acquired Jim Johnson from the Orioles in what essentially amounted to a salary dump, while parting with Escobar (two to three years of him, no less) represents a significant value heading to Washington. In this instance, however, Clippard seems likely to remain in a setup role, as Oakland has lights-out closer Sean Doolittle currently manning the ninth inning on an affordable long-term deal, eliminating the financial risk that would have come with letting him accumulate saves while still arbitration-eligible.

On a grander scale, the move further adds to the intrigue of the Oakland offseason. After reaching the playoffs via Wild Card status, Oakland began its offseason by signing Billy Butler to a three-year pact — a win-now move aimed to upgrade in the short-term. The A’s then traded away Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss, Jeff Samardzija and Derek Norris for packages of younger players (although they did receive a pair of MLB-ready pieces in Marcus Semien and Jesse Hahn). Following those moves, most assumed the A’s to be gearing up for a rebuild, but at that point, GM Billy Beane added Zobrist (with one year left on his deal) and Escobar in another move aimed at the short-term future. Overall, it seems that Beane and his staff are merely re-tooling — giving themselves a chance at contention in 2015 while simultaneously acquiring younger, more affordable players to create a lengthier window of contention (or to use as chips in further trades).

Jon Heyman of CBS Sports first reported that Escobar was headed to the Nats (Twitter link) and speculated that Clippard would be a fit. MLB.com’s Bill Ladson confirmed (on Twitter) that Clippard was indeed headed to Oakland.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Nats, Mets, Rays Discussed Desmond/Zobrist Trade

The Nationals, Mets and Rays discussed a three-team deal involving Ian Desmond, Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar before the Rays sent Zobrist and Escobar to Oakland, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports writes. The Mets would have received Desmond, with Zobrist and Escobar heading to Washington and the Mets sending prospects to Tampa. The deal ultimately fell through when the Mets declined to part with two prospects from a list of three, one of whom was pitcher Noah Syndergaard. The Mets also discussed acquiring Zobrist from the Rays in a more conventional two-team trade, although the two teams encountered the same hangup regarding prospects.

The structure of the potential three-team deal makes sense, at least on some level, for all sides. The Mets continue to be weak at shortstop, and Desmond would have been an enormous upgrade over Wilmer Flores and Ruben Tejada. The Nationals had been connected to Zobrist, and Escobar, who is under control through 2016 with an option for 2017, would have provided an everyday shortstop for at least the next two years, helping alleviate a headache that could arrive next offseason as a number of key players become eligible for free agency. (Zobrist, who would have upgraded the Nats at second base while also providing them with options in the outfield, would have joined the list of Nationals eligible for free agency next winter, however.) And it’s hardly surprising that the Rays would have asked for high-upside young talent for Zobrist, since that’s what they ultimately got (in Daniel Robertson and Boog Powell, who they received along with John Jaso and cash) when they sent him to the Athletics.

Desmond is eligible for free agency after the season, however, and Rosenthal notes that the Mets were concerned about paying a high price for a one-year player, particularly given the possibility that they could sign him next winter anyway. The Rays’ asking price evidently was high, even without knowing who they might have received besides Syndergaard — MLB.com and Baseball America both rank Syndergaard as the Mets’ No. 1 prospect, with MLB.com ranking him the No. 10 prospect in all of baseball. The 22-year-old posted a 4.60 ERA with 9.8 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9 in 133 innings for the Mets’ hitter-friendly Triple-A Las Vegas affiliate in 2014.

The Nationals would not have been concerned about having Desmond play for another team in the NL East, Rosenthal writes. The Cubs, Giants and other teams besides the Athletics and Nationals also had interest in Zobrist.



Reactions To The Ben Zobrist Trade

Earlier today, the Rays agreed to swap Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar to the Athletics for John Jaso, infield prospect Daniel Robertson, and outfield prospect Boog Powell. The move represents a five or six win gain for the A’s, writes Keith Law of ESPN (Insider required). Per Law, Oakland lacked any “capable everyday middle infielders,” so the move is pure benefit at those positions. Here’s more reactions to the blockbuster.

  • While it’s been a hectic offseason for the A’s, the club still has another $5MM available, tweets John Hickey of Bay Area News Group. My impression is that the team is pretty well stocked at this point. I could see a role for a third catcher, backup outfielder, or middle reliever, but no need is particularly pressing.
  • Teams interested in Zobrist checked in with A’s GM Billy Beane within five minutes of the trade, tweets Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle. Zobrist appears to be a linchpin for the A’s, so a second trade strikes me as unlikely. Of course, Beane has shown this offseason that we can’t rule it out.
  • The acquisition of Zobrist and Escobar will allow the A’s to shift Marcus Semien into a utility role, writes Law. Semien was previously penciled in as the primary shortstop, but he’s better suited to second or third base. With Semien and Zobrist capable of playing all over the diamond, Oakland could possess the most flexible roster in the league.
  • “We see [Semien] as an everyday player, similar to Josh Harrison‘s role with the Pirates,” said Beane to reporters including Chris Haft of MLB.com. Meanwhile, Beane plans to leverage Zobrist’s versatility and switch-hitting to build excellent matchups. In the same article, Beane compared Robertson to former Athletic Mark Ellis.
  • Jaso is excited to return to Tampa Bay, tweets Matt Baker of the Tampa Bay Times. Per Baker, Jaso had identified the Rays earlier in the offseason as a team that might target him (also Twitter).
  • Jaso’s return to the Rays could allow the club to shop left-handed outfielder David DeJesus, according to Law. The veteran outfielder is owed $6MM in 2015, and the Rays have a reputation for careful management of the payroll. A trade would open more regular playing time for Kevin Kiermaier and Brandon Guyer. Jaso is expected to serve primarily as a designated hitter.
  • Beane’s re-tooling efforts are “fearless,” writes Richard Justice of MLB.com. The GM’s decision to trade multiple All Stars and established veterans to extend the club’s window to compete is nothing short of inspired. Justice also notes that manager Bob Melvin specializes in building cohesive teams. With so many new faces, Melvin will have his hands full.

Matt Silverman On The Ben Zobrist Trade

The trade of Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar to the Athletics for John Jaso, shortstop prospect Daniel Robertson and outfield prospect Boog Powell on Saturday was a franchise-changing one for the Rays, who parted with a longtime star. Zobrist joined the team in 2006 when it had never had a winning season and was still called the Devil Rays, and he was a key to the team’s turnaround, helping lead the organization to its first winning season in 2008.

USATSI_7995594_154513410_lowresRays president of baseball operations Matt Silverman told the media Saturday afternoon that the decision to trade Zobrist, who would have been eligible for free agency after the season, was a painful one.

This has been a difficult transaction for all of us to stomach,” Silverman said. “There are a lot of heavy hearts in the organization today. Ben has been a central figure in the transformation of the organization.”

Unsurprisingly, Silverman said that a team in the Rays’ position sometimes has to trade veterans for young talent.

These trades are difficult, but they’re a necessary part of how we operate. In an ideal world, we don’t make these kinds of trades, but we don’t have the luxury to do that,” he said.

While not all trades of older players for younger ones work out, such trades have often proven helpful to the Rays in the past.

We acquired Ben Zobrist in a trade kind of like this,” said Silverman, referring to the deal in which they sent former star Aubrey Huff to the Astros in 2006.

The Rays parted with another starting infielder in Escobar in today’s deal as well. They knew heading into trade discussions that the Athletics liked Escobar, because the A’s had claimed him from the Rays on revocable waivers last year.

When we talk to teams, oftentimes interest is expressed years before transactions actually come to a head,” said Silverman, adding that the A’s were one of a number of teams with interest in Escobar. “Oakland had interest in Yunel for awhile, and it helps set the tone for conversations.

Now, with Zobrist and Escobar gone, the Rays will need to reshape their middle infield. The key will be Asdrubal Cabrera, whose signing the Rays officially announced today. Silverman said that Cabrera would get regular playing time either at shortstop or second base.

Beyond that, he noted, “we have an open mind heading into the spring” regarding the middle infield. Silverman added that Nick Franklin, who the Rays acquired in the David Price deal last summer and who can also play both shortstop and second base, could now get more playing time as well.

There are a number of players in our organization who probably see a better opportunity for them,” Silverman said, though he also suggested that the Rays could continue to look for outside middle infield help.

Meanwhile, the Rays did get one big-leaguer as part of their return in the trade. Getting a good left-handed hitter in John Jaso was a key to the deal, Silverman said.

He’s the kind of offensive player that our lineup has been missing against right-handed pitching,” said Silverman.

The position Jaso has played the most is catcher, but Silverman suggested that Jaso’s hitting was more important to them than his ability to catch. Jaso missed the end of the 2014 season with concussion issues. Silverman said he expects Jaso to be healthy heading into the season, but added that it’s important that the Rays put Jaso “in the best position to succeed,” seemingly suggesting that the team could limit his catching if playing the position proved to be a health risk. The team could use Jaso at first base or outfield in addition to occasional catching if he proves he can perform at those positions.

We want to make sure we get as much out of that bat as possible,” said Silverman.

Nonetheless, it’s Robertson, the Athletics’ former No. 1 prospect, who most interests the Rays.

Robertson is the lead piece in this transaction,” Silverman said. “It takes a large trade like this for us to be able to acquire someone of his talents.”

Powell isn’t on Robertson’s level as a prospect, but he wasn’t a throw-in, either.

He’s a speedy outfielder with an interesting bat profile, and one that we hope can develop a little bit more power. It’s a profile that is uncommon, but one that can often find success at the Major League level,” said Silverman. “He’s not going to overwhelm you in the stat box, but his value shows up in many different ways.”

Neither Robertson nor Powell has even played at Double-A yet, so neither of them are likely to help the Rays next year. Silverman says, though, that he expects the Rays’ offense to improve upon its AL-worst 612 runs scored next season, despite the departures of Zobrist, Escobar, Wil Myers and Matt Joyce.

A lot of that is based on our expectation that the players who are returning will perform better offensively than they did last year,” he said.

“If our players play to our expectation, and we get the contributions we expect from the players we’ve added, this should be a better offensive team. … This team should be competitive. It should be compelling. The talent level is certainly there. It just looks different than it has in years past.”

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Athletics Acquire Ben Zobrist, Yunel Escobar

The Rays have announced that they’ve traded Ben Zobrist and shortstop Yunel Escobar to the Athletics for catcher/DH John Jaso, shortstop prospect Daniel Robertson, and outfield prospect Boog Powell. The Rays also announced that they would receive cash considerations, which Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweets is $1.5MM.

USATSI_8035097_154513410_lowresIt’s an emotional and meaningful day as we bid farewell to Ben Zobrist and thank him for everything he’s meant to the Rays organization,” says Rays executive Matt Silverman. “Any description of his value, talent and character would understate how we feel about Ben, and we consider ourselves fortunate for all our great moments together.”

The Athletics entered the offseason with needs at both middle infield positions. They addressed one of those when they acquired Marcus Semien from the White Sox in the Jeff Samardzija trade, though Semien isn’t an established big-leaguer, and the versatile Zobrist can be moved around the field if Semien emerges. Or perhaps it’s Semien who will move around — he played third base in the big leagues and left field in the minors in 2014, and Slusser suggests that Semien could now be used “like a young Zobrist.” So acquiring Zobrist and Escobar certainly makes sense from a positional perspective.

The A’s pulling off a blockbuster trade for Zobrist and Escobar is surprising, however, given the trajectory of their offseason. They signed DH Billy Butler early in the winter but have spent much of the rest of it trading veterans, not acquiring them, sending Samardzija to Chicago, Josh Donaldson to Toronto, Brandon Moss to Cleveland, and Derek Norris to San Diego. The A’s also lost Jon Lester, Luke Gregerson and Jed Lowrie to free agency.

The Athletics aren’t interested in complete rebuilds, however, and acquiring Zobrist and Escobar (who the Athletics claimed on revocable waivers last August) should help, at least for 2015, in making up for the talent they lost previously in the offseason. The 33-year-old Zobrist has been one of baseball’s best players over the past several seasons, with four straight seasons of an fWAR of above 5.0. While his offense the past two years has been down from his 2008-2012 pace (slipping somewhat to .272/.354/.395 in 2014), his defensive talents and ability to play second base, shortstop and outfield make him tremendously valuable. He will be eligible for free agency after making $7.5MM in the last option season on the team-friendly extension he signed with Tampa in 2010. The Athletics can also extend Zobrist a qualifying offer after the season, potentially netting themselves a draft pick if he signs elsewhere.

Zobrist had also been connected to the Nationals and Giants this offseason. As MLBTR’s Steve Adams pointed out in December, however, Zobrist would have made sense for any number of teams.

Escobar, 32, hit .258/.324/.340 in 529 plate appearances with the Rays in 2014. In the past, much of his value has come from his above-average glove, although UZR liked his defense considerably less in 2014 than it did in the past. He signed a two-year deal last April that carries him through 2016 at a total of $12MM, and he also has a $1MM buyout on a $7MM option for 2017.

From the Rays’ perspective, a trade of Zobrist or Escobar seemed likely after the team reached agreement on a one-year deal with Asdrubal Cabrera. Cabrera will make $7.5MM in 2015, exactly the same as Zobrist, so trading him doesn’t seem to be primarily about shedding salary, but about getting something for a top player who’s eligible for free agency before the next time the Rays are likely to contend. The Rays could now use a combination of Cabrera, Nick Franklin and Logan Forsythe in the middle infield.

The Rays’ haul is considerable, as one would expect given Zobrist’s considerable talents. Jaso, 31, appeared in 54 games at catcher and 32 at DH last season, hitting .264/.337/.430. Given his solid hitting from the left side, Jaso is valuable at either position. He tells John Hickey of the Bay Area News Group (on Twitter) that the Rays have told him they want him to mostly DH while occasionally filling in at catcher. That would leave Rene Rivera as the Rays’ primary backstop.

Jaso was a semi-regular player for the Rays in 2010 and 2011 before they traded him to Seattle. He’s projected to make $3.3MM in 2015, his last season before he’s eligible for free agency. Jaso missed the end of the season last year with concussion issues but is expected to be healthy heading into the 2015 season.

The real jewel here, though, is Robertson, who MLB.com and Baseball America rank as the Athletics’ top prospect MLB.com also ranks him the No. 85 prospect in baseball overall. The 20-year-old also, obviously, would have qualified as Oakland’s top young shortstop after the A’s traded Addison Russell last year. Robertson, who the A’s drafted in the first round in 2012, hit .310/.402/.471 in 642 plate appearances with Class A+ Stockton in 2014, winning praise for his line-drive stroke on offense and his sure-handedness on defense. The loss of Robertson is another hit to the Athletics’ farm system that lost plenty of talent in the Samardzija deal with the Cubs last summer, although the addition of Franklin Barreto in the Donaldson trade should help with the middle infield depth they’re losing.

Fellow 2012 draftee Powell, meanwhile, ranks No. 11 on MLB.com’s list. Powell (who isn’t related to the fellow lefty-hitting outfielder and former Orioles great of the same name) hit a terrific .343/.451/.435 in 381 plate appearances with Class A Beloit and with Stockton in 2014. He was, however, suspended for 50 games in July for testing positive for an amphetamine. He doesn’t have an outstanding arm, but has good speed (though he hasn’t translated that speed into good basestealing ability yet) and could stick in center field.

Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle was the first to report that a deal sending Zobrist and Escobar to Oakland was imminent. Joel Sherman of the New York Post was the first to tweet that the Rays would get Jaso and two prospects in the deal. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweeted that Robertson was involved in the deal, while ESPN’s Keith Law tweeted that Powell was in the trade.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Rays Sign Asdrubal Cabrera

The Rays have announced that they’ve signed middle infielder Asdrubal Cabrera to a one-year deal. The Octagon client will make $7.5MM.

MLB: Washington Nationals at Philadelphia PhilliesThe Rays already had Yunel Escobar at shortstop and Ben Zobrist to play second, but after they reached agreement with Cabrera, they shipped both Escobar and Zobrist (who also will make $7.5MM next season) to Oakland. That should free the Rays’ middle infield for Cabrera, Nick Franklin and Logan Forsythe.

Cabrera, 29, hit .241/.307/.387 in 553 plate appearances with the Indians and Nationals last season. He rated as below average defensively at shortstop, and mostly played second base with the Nationals, who already had Ian Desmond at shortstop. Cabrera ranked 23rd on MLBTR’s list of this offseason’s top 50 free agents, just ahead of Jed Lowrie as the top middle infielder available (not including Hanley Ramirez). That such a player would only receive a one-year deal is somewhat surprising (Lowrie, for example, got three years and $23MM), but the contract will give Cabrera another shot at free agency next year, when he’ll still only be 30.

Cabrera is the first significant signing for the Rays this offseason. The Rays have added Ernesto Frieri and Michael Kohn on big-league deals, also trading Wil Myers, Ryan Hanigan, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Joyce, Joel Peralta and Sean Rodriguez in an attempt to remake a team that won 77 games with the franchise’s highest ever payroll.

Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported that the contract was done, and that it was a one-year, $7.5MM contract (Twitter links). Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports originally tweeted that an agreement was in place. Heyman first tweeted that a deal was close.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Fallout From The Asdrubal Cabrera Deal

Here are a few notes on the Rays’ new one-year agreement with Asdrubal Cabrera:

  • Perhaps the key takeaway of the Cabrera signing is that the Rays now have a surplus in their middle infield, suggesting a trade of either Ben Zobrist or Yunel Escobar. Zobrist in particular would be a very attractive addition for any number of clubs, and Mark Zuckerman of NatsInsider.com looks at the possibility that Cabrera’s old team, the Nationals, could trade for Zobrist to play second base, their only obviously weak position.
  • Zobrist is a good fit for the Giants but an even better fit for the Nationals, Grant Brisbee of McCovey Chronicles writes. The Giants might not be able to top the Nationals in a bidding war, since the Nats, for whom second base is their only significant need, could be highly motivated to acquire Zobrist. Brisbee also notes that it’s strange that Cabrera would head to Tampa Bay on a one-year deal with the intention of building his value, since Tropicana Field figures to limit his offensive output.
  • Cabrera’s signing leaves one less player for the Yankees to sign, Brendan Kuty of NJ.com writes. They could still pursue Cuban infielder Hector Olivera, to whom they’ve been connected, to play second base. Stephen Drew and Rickie Weeks are other possibilities. They could deal for Zobrist, although a trade between the Yankees and their divisional rivals in Tampa seems unlikely. They could also simply go with Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela.

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.