The Angels waited until most everyone had left the Winter Meetings to make their first big splash in Nashville, acquiring veteran infielder Yunel Escobar from the Washington Nationals on Thursday for hard-throwing RHP Trevor Gott and to-be-determined pitching prospect.
Escobar, 33, not only provides an immediate boost to the top of the lineup—he’s a career .290/.356/.412 hitter in the lead-off spot—he also brings a versatility that allows the team to be more flexible with its roster construction. If he starts at third, as it seems is the current plan, then Johnny Giavotella can be plugged in at second. But if the team gets a deal for David Freese they can’t pass up or if Kaleb Cowart takes another step forward offensively, then Escobar can slide to the keystone.
Of course, “versatility” doesn’t always equate to a strong glove—sometimes it’s borne of necessity. So it is with Escobar, who hadn’t played more than a few MLB innings at the hot corner before being thrust into the position (because of injuries to Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman) in 2015. He was more or less an average defender at short for eight seasons, but rated atrociously across the board at this past season. A full offseason of working at the position should help that some, as should playing alongside human vacuum Andrelton Simmons. He won’t be a great defender, but he probably won’t be any worse than Freese either.
Escobar is owed an amenable $7 million in 2016 and has a $7 million option for 2017 as well, so it’s impossible to see this as an overpay. When you’re offered multiple years of an average or better position player in return for a one-pitch reliever, you take that deal every time.
The loss of Gott makes things a little hairier in the Angels bullpen, but they still have plenty of time to figure that out. I enjoyed his first cup of coffee with the club, but it’s nearly impossible to succeed in the big leagues with just one pitch, and Gott’s off-speed offerings only got less reliable as the season wore on.
More to come later.