The Royals will move on from Alcides Escobar in favor of rookie shortstop Raul Mondesi over the long term, in the opinion of league sources that talk to Today’s Knuckleball writer Jon Heyman. Is an Escobar deal a good idea?
You can see Heyman’s story here.
Twenty-eight year old Alcides Escobar is having a poor season both at the plate and with the glove according to most advanced metrics. His .314 slugging percentage is the worst mark in the league for any qualifying regular in major league baseball, and even defensive metrics like Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) and Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) put him at below league average in the field (negative numbers). As a result, both Baseball-reference and Fangraphs.com rate Escobar as a below replacement level player in 2016.
That’s pretty bad.
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However, those negative numbers come with a big caveat. The creators of these defensive metrics will also tell you that it takes more than one year of data for the metric to “stabilize” (become reliable). Statistical variance can distort a player’s performance in any given year, thus that sabermetric nerds will generally tell you it takes three years of defensive data to feel confident about the numbers.
Thus, many teams will discount Escobar’s negative fielding data in 2016 as an anomaly, especially since the eye test will tell their scouts that Escobar can still pick it. Add his 2015 gold glove to his MVP trophy for his performance in the 2015 American League Championship Series against Toronto, and a contender that needs a good defensive shortstop to solidify their infield defense could be interested. Certainly they know he can perform on the big stage in the playoffs. In fact, Escobar has a quite respectable .311/.326/.467 slash line in 31 post-season games.
The only way KC Royals general manager Dayton Moore would make such a move is if he commits to building for 2017 and gives up on 2016. Given the Kansas City Royals ability to defy expectations over the last two seasons, I don’t see him waving the white flag even with his team two games under .500 on July 28.
Heyman, of course, indicated that his sources think the KC Royals would move on from Escobar in favor of Mondesi over the long-term, which suggests to me that they might move Escobar this winter.
The Kansas City Royals hold a $6.5 million team option on Escobar for the 2017 season, which would mean he needs to produce a mere 0.8 WAR to make his contract worth market value (assuming last year’s rough free-market value of $8 million per WAR holds true). For Moore to make such a move, however, Mondesi would have to show he’s likely to produce as much, if not more, than Escobar next season. Plus, Moore would also have to feel confident that Whit Merrifield or Christian Colon can take over at second base.
Colon simply does not look like anything more than a utility player at this point in his career. Merrifield needs to show that he’s adjusted to the hole that major league pitchers seem to have found in his swing that caused him to slide into a 5 for 45 slump just before he was sent down to AAA Omaha. I’m guessing that Merrifield would, at least, need a strong showing in September to make the front office buy into the idea of counting on him to man second in 2017.