Selling the Royals short
December, 21, 2010
By Buster Olney | ESPN.com
Ned Yost possessed veto power in the Royals' trade talks with the Brewers, because he had first-hand insight into two of the major pieces in the deal from his days as the Milwaukee manager. He knows Alcides Escobar. He knows Lorenzo Cain.
The Royals used information from scouts and statistical analysts as they weighed the pros and cons of the proposed deal. But if at any point Yost had raised his voice and said that acquiring Escobar or Cain was a bad idea, he could at least have altered the composition of the trade, and more likely could have squashed it altogether.
Howard Smith/US PresswireIf seen as a finished product, Alcides Escobar isn't remarkable. But few see him as such.
But Yost argued for Escobar and Cain and endorsed their inclusion. And after the deal was made, Escobar said good things about his past history with Yost.
That's important, because as Dayton Moore explained over the phone Monday, the Royals were intent on getting in any Greinke trade what any small-market or mid-market team struggles to acquire through free agency: middle infielders and center fielders with high-end ability. And while there are questions borne from Escobar's offensive struggles in 2010 -- he ranked 147th among 149 qualifying hitters in OPS -- no one doubts that he is a potential top-tier shortstop.
As the Royals discussed how Escobar would fit in, they noted the fact that Mike Moustakas -- the monster third-base prospect who should reach the majors sometime in the next 18 months -- has average defensive range. And Escobar, with his superior range, could be a good complement for Moustakas for years to come.
Much has been made of Escobar's low on-base percentage and his struggles at the plate in 2010. But Moore and his staff believe that Escobar will improve, aided by his past history with Yost. "That transition will go much smoother," Moore said.
Some rival evaluators agreed with this assessment by Moore on the shortstop position: If you're sitting around waiting for some Tulo-like shortstop to walk through the door -- a total package -- then you'll probably never be satisfied. In this era of drug testing, Escobar is probably destined to be part of the upper echelon of shortstops.
"[To paraphrase] Rick Pitino, Hanley Ramirez, Troy Tulowitzki, Stephen Drew, and the Cuban Missile [Alexei Ramirez] are not walking thru that door right now or available thru trade," a longtime evaluator wrote in an e-mail. "We all fantasize about having one of those options for the SS position but are inhibited by supply and demand. Alcides Escobar is a dynamic glove-first shortstop who had a rude baptism in the major leagues. He did well in his first taste in 2009 but the league adjusted, and his hack-first mentality was exposed. However, he is 24 years old this December. He was in a tough environment where the manager knew he had to win to survive.
"Let's examine those deemed capable of playing shortstop in the majors. Fellow Venezuelan Elvis Andrus was a revelation this year and started in the World Series -- and Elvis improved his plate discipline dramatically but slugged .301 for the season. Ronny Cedeno got on base at a 293 clip. Brendan Ryan was a trade target by multiple teams and his OPS was similar to Escobar's. Tampa just received a bounty for Jason Bartlett one year from free agency and he OPS'd .674 in 2010. For all of the hatred that Yuniesky Betancourt receives in the sabremetric world how much different is he than Juan Uribe who just received 21 million dollars to patrol Chavez Ravine?
The bottom line is there are not many options in the world to satisfy what we all fantasize the shortstop position to be -- a standout defensive player that is a solid contributor offensively.
-- MLB talent evaluator
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