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Braves Ship Yunel Escobar to Toronto, Sell Low to Win Now

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It's hard to argue that Yunel Escobar is worse at baseball than Alex Gonzalez. Escobar's got a much higher career Weighted On Base Average (.342 to .299) and had accrued more Wins Above Replacement in his three seasons in the majors (10.1) before 2010 than Gonzalez had in his 11 pre-2010 seasons (9.7). And then there's the matter of age: Escobar is 27 and Gonzalez is 33.

So swapping the two players and assorted spare parts, as the Braves and Jays did today, would seem to be a trade the team receiving Escobar would win. And in the middle term, Toronto probably will. The spare parts Atlanta's getting, reliever Tim Collins and infielder Tyler Pastornicky, are both 20-year-old minor leaguers, and could swing that balance, but Escobar should produce more in the next two to three years for Toronto than Gonzalez will for the Braves. (Shipping marginal reliever Jo-Jo Reyes to Toronto isn't a huge loss for Atlanta or a win for the Jays.) But the Braves might win it for now, because their objective is winning now.

Gonzalez is more likely to help them do  that this year. 2010 has been his best year since 2003, and he's swatted 17 homers and compiled an impressive .491 slugging percentage through the All-Star break. These are the numbers that compensate for his chronically low on-base percentage (.296 this year, .294 career) and impatience at the plate (65 strikeouts to just 17 walks). Eighty-five games isn't a huge sample size, but it's enough to conclude that Gonzalez has been good so far this year.

Escobar hasn't been quite so good. He's failed to hit a homer all year, has just 12 extra-base hits, all doubles, and also committed one of baseball's cardinal sins: angering Bobby Cox.

It's long been rumored that Escobar's lackadaisical play—a lazy throw here, a baserunning mishap there—had put him permanently in the Braves' doghouse. Atlanta Journal-Constitutional attack dog Mark Bradley throws in some more loaded language in proclaiming the trade "addition by subtraction":

⇥It wasn’t just that Yunel Escobar was slow to learn English. He was slower to learn how to be a professional. How many times do you have to be told to hustle — the concept of which should be the same in every language — before it’s clear you just don’t care to do it?
It gets a little less incendiary after that, but it's very, very hard to not see a cultural miscommunication having something to do with this move on some level, especially if a columnist leads with his problems with English. To be fair, figuring out how to maximize your talent is part of baseball, and Escobar has done less of that this year. But what part of keeping him motivated and productive is immutable, and what can be attributed to an organization failing to reach or convince him? Escobar is indisputably being traded at his lowest value since becoming a major leaguer; selling low isn't a move a team makes unless it has to, and between the Braves' exasperation with him and an opportunity to snag some power, this isn't an awful trade.

The Braves thought they had to move Escobar, and got a short-term replacement for him with six more years on the odometer. That replacement might well be good enough to propel the Braves deep into October, and that's been the Braves' prerogative for this year, likely the last for both Cox and Chipper Jones. But Escobar might have been, too, if his power rebounded or his motivation returned—and he was and is a better bet to help in future Octobers.


This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.