The Mets and Angels pulled off an unexpected swap Friday night. New York dealt veteran infielder Eduardo Escobar and cash considerations to the Halos for pitching prospects Coleman Crow and Landon Marceaux. New York is reportedly paying Escobar’s salary down to the $720K league minimum.
Escobar, 34, spent a year and a half in Queens. The amiable infielder signed a two-year, $20MM free agent contract over the 2021-22 offseason. He worked as New York’s primary third baseman last year, starting 125 games and tallying 542 plate appearances. He put together a decent .240/.295/.430 showing, compensating for the mediocre on-base mark by connecting on 20 home runs.
That kind of production is par for the course. Escobar doesn’t draw many walks, which generally keeps his on-base percentage around or below the league average. He’s a solid power bat, though, reaching the 20-homer mark in every full season between 2017-22. A 35-homer season with the Diamondbacks in 2019 looks to have been inflated by that year’s very lively ball, but Escobar has a decent amount of pop in his bat.
He hasn’t shown that in 2023, largely thanks to an early-season slump. Escobar opened the year as New York’s third baseman but hit only .125/.173/.229 through April 16. At that point, New York recalled top prospect Brett Baty and installed him at the hot corner. That pushed Escobar into a depth role for which he’s arguably overqualified.
To his credit, Escobar has played well in sporadic playing time since being pushed to the bench. He has a .323/.373/.548 batting line in 67 plate appearances since Baty was promoted. His overall season line still checks in below-average (.236/.286/.409) thanks to the brutal first few weeks, but Escobar has contributed when given opportunities of late.
Nevertheless, there wasn’t a clear path for him to get back into the starting lineup. The 23-year-old Baty is viewed as a potential cornerstone offensive player. He has struggled after a torrid first few weeks but continued to get regular playing time. Baty has taken four of the last six starts at the hot corner, all of which have come against right-handed pitching. Jeff McNeil is entrenched at second base, closing off Escobar’s other main path to playing time.
There are no such roadblocks in Anaheim. The Angels have been hit with a trio of infield injuries in rapid succession over the past week. Shortstop Zach Neto strained his oblique. Corner infielder Gio Urshela suffered a fractured pelvis that is likely to end his season. Anthony Rendon sustained a left wrist contusion on a hit-by-pitch.
All of a sudden, the Halos were pressing Andrew Velazquez, Luis Rengifo and some combination of Jared Walsh and Michael Stefanic into regular playing time around Brandon Drury. That’s a suboptimal group for a club battling for a playoff spot.
Escobar isn’t likely to take playing time from Velazquez at shortstop. While he had experience there early in his career, he hasn’t played the position with any regularity since 2018. He’ll be an option at the other infield spots, particularly third and second base. Public metrics like Defensive Runs Saved and Statcast’s Outs Above Average have pegged him as a below-average defender in recent years, but he can bounce around the dirt as a bat-first utility option.
He’s most directly a replacement for the right-handed hitting Urshela. Escobar switch hits but has been quite a bit more effective from the right side of the dish. Over the past five seasons, he carries a .278/.317/.514 line against left-handed pitching while hitting .237/.300/.431 versus righty arms. Since displacing him at third base, the Mets have deployed him primarily against southpaws — a huge factor in his much improved production.
With Escobar having a diminished role in Queens and the Halos suddenly hunting for infield help, there’s a decent amount of appeal for everyone involved. It’s rare to see a trade of this kind of consequence occur in June, but it’s understandable the Angels wanted to jump the market. Their infield need is most pressing while Rendon is out of action. The Halos don’t have much margin for error in a jumbled American League playoff picture. Los Angeles entered play tonight half a game behind the Yankees for the last AL Wild Card spot and six games back of the Rangers in the AL West.
The Mets entered the season with divisional aspirations after winning 101 games last year. New York has played disappointing ball thus far, carrying a 34-40 record into play Friday night. Now 14 games back of the Braves in the NL East, they’re all but out of the division mix. They’re still within shouting distance of a Wild Card spot, seven games behind the Dodgers.
New York isn’t yet conceding the 2023 campaign. General manager Billy Eppler told Tim Healey of Newsday that trading Escobar had “no correlation” with the rest of the club’s deadline plans. Rather, the team jumped on an opportunity to cash in a player who had been pushed out of the lineup for a pair of minor league pitchers.
Crow ranked 17th on Baseball America’s midseason update of the Angels’ farm system and checked in eighth on Eric Longenhagen’s recent list at FanGraphs. An overslot signee out of high school in the 28th round of the 2019 draft, Crow draws praise for his athleticism and a quality slider.
The Georgia native is regarded as a potential back-of-the-rotation starter or multi-inning reliever. He’ll be eligible for the Rule 5 draft if not added to the 40-man roster by November, so he’d profile as near-term pitching depth if healthy. He has been on the injured list since the end of April but started his season with a 1.88 ERA and excellent 31:6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 24 innings at Double-A.
Marceaux, a 2021 third-round pick out of LSU, ranked 20th in the Halos’ system at BA. While he typically works in the low 90s with his fastball, he’s credited with plus control of a four-pitch mix. He has spent his age-23 season in Double-A, working to a 4.88 ERA through 59 innings. The right-hander has a below-average 17.1% strikeout rate but has kept his walks to a tidy 7.2% clip. He won’t be Rule 5 eligible until after the 2024 campaign and seems to profile as a depth starter.
To entice the Halos to part with those arms, the Mets paid down virtually all of Escobar’s $9.5MM salary. They’re paying an accompanying 110% tax on that money. Andy Martino of SNY reported this afternoon that New York was open to spending to improve their farm system, either by taking on another team’s undesirable contract while getting back minor league talent or paying down some of their own deals. They’ve put that into action with today’s swap.
Escobar’s contract contains a $9MM club option for next season with a $500K buyout. It seems likely the Halos will opt for the buyout, although there’s at least some flexibility to keep him around if he goes on a second-half tear. The far bigger concern is plugging in an immediate stopgap veteran to help them weather their injury issues.
Doing so at no financial cost keeps their luxury tax number around $238MM, as estimated by Roster Resource — a few million north of the $233MM base threshold. They’ll surely be willing to get more aggressive as the deadline approaches if they’re still in the thick of the playoff race. Supporting the back of the rotation and/or adding middle infield help could be future goals for GM Perry Minasian and his staff.
Andy Martino of SNY first reported the Mets were paying Escobar’s salary down to league minimum.
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