Sometimes, a diamond in the rough is really just more latter than the former.
Even if you happen to be one of the best at finding the former, too. Just ask the Tampa Bay Rays, the small market team that’s all but made a living off of turning other teams’ unwanted pieces into crucial contributors. Still, the law of averages say that for every James Loney, there’s bound to be a miss elsewhere.
And for this 2013 Rays team, the biggest miss might just be Yunel Escobar.
Now, ‘miss’ is a relative term, of course, and the truth is that Escobar is still providing Tampa Bay with excess value on his $5 million salary in 2013, being a 1.5 fWAR player already through 73 games. That, however, has much more to do with his defense (5.3 fielding runs above average) rather than what he brings to the plate … which has been a large dose of disappointment, if not outright regression.
Keep in mind that Escobar was a .782 OPS hitter just two years ago for the Toronto Blue Jays, and who did not hit any lower than .288 through the first three years of his major league career.
After a disappointing .253/.300/.344 season that saw him essentially alienate himself from Toronto and its fans with poor performance and other off-the-field issues (see: gay slur on eye black), Tampa Bay seemed like a perfect rebound opportunity …. or at least it was, until he got off to a .169/.229/.286 start through his first month with the Rays this year.
That was enough to for the team to move him all the way down to the bottom of the order, and while he found some success there in May (.287/.340/.426, two HRs and seven doubles), it’s been yet another step back for the shortstop as June draws to a close.
Okay, so he’s not really hitting well below the Mendoza line anymore, but Escobar’s .267 average through 86 at-bats for the month is made even more inauspicious by the fact that he’s hitting for essentially no power again. Yes, he will catch one occasionally (two homers for the month); but with just one double so far, 20 of the 23 hits he had this month have been singles … giving him yet another disappointing .672 OPS for the month.
… which is okay for a no. 9 hitter with plus-defense at a premium position, I suppose.
Still, this version of Escobar couldn’t have been what the Rays hoped for, as they’re definitely getting more of the floor rather than the ceiling for the enigmatic shortstop in 2013.