- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
Gonzalez was traded back to the National League on Wednesday along with a pair of raw, 20-year-old prospects for shortstop Yunel Escobar and pitcher Jo-Jo Reyes. Can you imagine this trade taking place before the season? Can you imagine this trade happening before the season in a fantasy league?
I would say it is shocking how Escobar has fallen, as he was considered the No. 9 shortstop in ESPN preseason live drafts, a seemingly solid 13th-round pick, while Gonzalez hasn't been a fantasy contributor for years. However, this real-life trade makes it obvious that both players needed to be reevaluated from a fantasy perspective, underscoring how far Escobar had fallen. He's the one owned in 41 percent of ESPN standard (10-team) mixed leagues, while Gonzalez, the big-league leader in home runs for all middle infielders, is 100-percent owned. Stunning.
Gonzalez gives the Braves a better sixth or seventh hitter in their lineup, assuming he continues to swing for the fences and blast fastballs over them. Gonzalez has 17 home runs and 25 doubles in 85 games. He doesn't walk, doesn't hit many singles and never possessed much speed, but the power doesn't appear to be a fluke. Gonzalez does have a 23-home run season on his ledger, in 2004 with the Florida Marlins.
I regarded him as somewhat of a sell-high option because he was unlikely to keep up this pace, and his .259 batting average is also higher than normal. Gonzalez might hit another 10 home runs, roughly one per week, but could easily drop 20 points off his batting average, especially when moving to the more pitcher-friendly league. Then again, he's an experienced National Leaguer. He's someone NL-only owners should add if they need some pop. Escobar owners certainly weren't getting any.
As for Escobar, he's got a .238 batting average and nary a home run in 75 games, plus a questionable work ethic that angered former manager Bobby Cox numerous times. He's experienced quite a fall from 2009, when he hit 14 home runs and batted .299. His OPS is down nearly 200 points. I considered him, and still do, to be a smart buy-low option, and wouldn't be a bit surprised if Escobar starts tapping immediately into the potential we saw in previous seasons. Some players just need a change of scenery, and heading to Canada is certainly that.
Escobar, including this season, is a career .291 hitter, and many thought he had a 20-home run season in his future. With pretty much every Blue Jay swinging for the fences, and Escobar a candidate to assume the No. 2 lineup spot -- Aaron Hill isn't doing much in that role -- I would definitely spend a waiver pick on him if you're in an AL-only league, or simply add him in mixed leagues. Escobar is available in nearly 60 percent of ESPN standard (10-team) mixed leagues, which makes sense since he's the No. 40-ranked shortstop on the Player Rater. For Escobar to be worse than Julio Lugo, Ronny Cedeno and Cesar Izturis, that's saying something. Gonzalez is ranked seventh, incidentally. Still, I doubt it stays this way.
I wouldn't call Escobar a clear top-10 shortstop anymore, but the potential to return to that level, even this season, would not be shocking. Gonzalez, Erick Aybar, Ryan Theriot and Juan Uribe currently comprise the Nos. 7-10 shortstops on the Player Rater. Escobar doesn't need to be Honus Wagner to get into the top 10. I would drop Theriot, Cliff Pennington, Marco Scutaro and Miguel Tejada, to name a few top-20 shortstops, for him. If he's starts hot in the second half, which I suspect he will, I'd cut Uribe, Jeff Keppinger, Cristian Guzman, Clint Barmes and about 15 other shortstops ranked ahead of him so far. Escobar is very talented and this is a trade the Braves could easily regret if they miss the playoffs.
As for the other major leaguer in the trade, fantasy owners need not worry about Reyes, even if the Blue Jays give him opportunities. I was interested in Reyes a few seasons ago because I tend to assume most Braves pitching prospects, if they believe in them, are worth something. Reyes has been awful over parts of four seasons in the big leagues, and doesn't really profile as a one-out lefty killer in the bullpen. At Triple-A Gwinnett this season his ERA was 5.70.