Will Yunel Escobar's Personal Baggage Weigh Down The Tampa Bay Rays In 2013?

By Thom Tsang
Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Yunel Escobar had a not-so-flattering reputation with the Atlanta Braves. The Toronto Blue Jays knew that when they traded for the talented shortstop, in hopes that his performance would outweigh any baggage he carried.

Two years later, after an incident that saw Escobar write a homophobic slur on his eye black that marked his final days in a Blue Jays uniform, he was gone in the off-season – traded to the Miami Marlins, who unceremoniously dumped his salary to the Tampa Bay Rays for an unheralded minor leaguer.

This is a player with a pair of 4.0+ fWAR season over the last four years who have been traded for next to nothing for a reason, and while they’ve heard the stories, Rays GM Andrew Friedman and manager Joe Maddon believes that the 30-year old can finally avoid trouble with the Rays in 2013.

Although it sounds like just they’re just repeating a broken record at this point, past history shows that the Rays hunch may very well turn out to be correct.

That is, if you believe Escobar’s previous change-of-scenery results.

Though few will doubt the shortstop’s fielding ability, his performances at the plate have been wildly inconsistent year-to-year. In 2010, when the shortstop was traded to Toronto, he’d been hitting a dismal .238/.334/.284 with the Braves through 75 games.

He was bored, disinterested, didn’t care. Or so we were told.

That changed very quickly upon his arrival to Toronto, with a jump to .275/.340/.356 for the final 60 games of the 2010 season, which set the table for Escobar to put on one of the best seasons of his career, a 4.2 fWAR, .782 OPS 2011, his first full season with the Blue Jays.

That he will be entering his first full season with a new team should give the Rays hope that he’ll do it again in 2013. Despite what attitude issues that Escobar has had, the fact remains that he will give Tampa Bay their first real full-time shortstop since the Jason Bartlett days, and someone who has the ability to be one of the best in the game at the position.

Or, as Maddon would say, he has “some chrome”.

A change in environment may be all it takes to bring it out of him. The Rays have little to lose here, especially when Escobar will be paid only $5 million dollars in 2013. If he happens to do well, the team could also exercise the two team options remaining on his contract that could see the Rays end up with three-years of Escobar at a bargain price.

Sure, whether the novelty of a second chance will once again wear off on Escobar in 2014 is something that the Rays will think about eventually, but it’s not something they have to worry about going into the 2013 season.

There’s no significant committment either way, and because of that, Escobar might easily turn out to be the best diamond-mining move that Friedman has made for the Rays this off-season, personal baggage be damned.

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