The Boston Red Sox traded ex-Blue Jay Marco Scutaro to the Colorado Rockies the other day. You may be asking yourself, “Why? Who’s gonna play shortstop for them in 2012?” and you wouldn’t be alone. Unless you believe that the team is making a won’t-take-no-for-an-answer push to re-acquire Hanley Ramirez, the move doesn’t seem to make a great deal of sense for the Sox for 2012.
The players equipped to defensively handle the shortstop position are quite often poorly equipped to hit at the major-league level. Those whose bats stand out at the position often get moved elsewhere on the diamond (see Rodriguez, Alex and Cabrera, Miguel). Scutaro adequately did the job in the field and at the plate – and even though he’s clearly on the back end of his career and coming off some injuries, he’s still better than most. It’s a tough position to fill, so trading a capable shortstop and not getting one in return has the potential to be a blow to a major league roster.
Mike Aviles and Nick Punto are useful-enough big leaguers, but there’s a reason Boston is looking ahead to a platoon arrangement for the two of them: because neither of them are good enough to do the job for 140+ games on their own. Frankly, it’s a situation Jays fans know pretty well.
There was a bona fide decade of darkness in Toronto at the shortstop position until Alex Anthopoulos swung the deal sending Tim Collins, Tyler Pastornicky and, most significantly, Alex Gonzalez to the Braves for Yunel Escobar (oh, and Jo Jo Reyes too, but never mind that).
Gonzalez was really just the latest in a revolving door of marginal big league talent that had cycled through the position since the turn of the century. Setting aside our beloved John McDonald (and forgetting, as so many do, about how dismal with the bat he really is, as his career .275 OBP illustrates), the rogues’ gallery included:
(Funny thing: Felipe Lopez was traded in part because there was a perception of middle infield depth in the system at the time. Worked out real nice in the subsequent years, dontcha think?)
Before all that, we were treated to the Other, More Handsome Alex Gonzalez, and a season of really fun craziness from Tony Batista.
In 2009 and 2010, the team basically fell ass-backwards into some above-average contributions from Scutaro and Gonzalez, but neither was a long-term fix at the position.
That never came until Gonzalez was flipped for Yunel Escobar. And since there’s Sweet Fuck All else going on in the baseball world in the depths of January, I’m going to sing his praises a little bit.
I think we take for granted just how important an addition to this team Escobar has been. In the mighty American League East, you can make a compelling case that he’s the best every-day shortstop in the division (matched up against weaker platoons in Boston and Tampa, a declining Derek Jeter, and a more one-dimensional J.J. Hardy, on whom Escobar has 40 points of career OBP at the same age).
Escobar can be penciled in at the top of the lineup card for the foreseeable future, getting on base at a respectable clip, and playing solid defensive at a premium defensive position. That, as a lot of other teams know and the Jays experienced for far too long, is worth a whole lot in the major leagues.
When the Jays do take that next step into the post-season and greater glories (as I think they will), I’m convinced we’ll look back at the Escobar acquisition as a turning point. For those of us who believe that the team is making clear, significant strides to building an organization that can reach the Holy Grail of “sustained success”, Yunel Escobar is Exhibit A.