Yunel Escobar

Angels acquire Yunel Escobar from Nationals

The Angels have been rather quiet this winter after opening the offseason in style when they traded for elite defensive shortstop Andrelton Simmons. That trade depleted what was already a thin farm system, likely the worst among the 30 clubs. So it comes as a mild surprise that they were able to now make a trade for competent infielder Yunel Escobar from the Nationals.

This moves fills one of the bigger holes the Angels have, though we’re just not sure which hole it is at present. Their current second base option is Johnny Giavotella. In 502 plate appearances with the Angels in 2015, he hit .272/.318/.375, 95 wRC+. That’s not horrible for a middle infielder, but it’s not very good either. He was also worth a negative 12 DRS. That’s pretty awful. Add it all up and he provided just 1.1 fWAR.

While that’s below average, the need at third base might be more pressing. Previously the position was manned by David Freese. He’s a free agent now and he might not be worth the commitment it would take the Angels to retain him. The top internal options are (failed?) prospect Kaleb Cowart and Kyle Kubitza. Each has had an uneven minor league career and reports aren’t good. They might be best served in a utility role or perhaps a platoon. Cowart is a left hander and Kubitza a switch-hitter. Kubitza’s minor league splits are all over the place–the most recent numbers suggest he’s better as a LHH, so it’s not a given that he could serve as a complimentary hitter to Cowart.

Yunel Escobar is the best of this group. In 591 plate appearances with the Nationals in 2015, he hit .314/.375/.415, 120 wRC+. It’s possible he’s turned a corner, but that slash line is not indicative of his career to date: 5,009 PA, .281/.350/.395, 99 wRC+. That’s still probably better than what we can expect from the others that the Angels are considering.

His played primarily at third base for the Nationals (the first time since 2007 ) and DRS did not like him there, as he totaled -11 for the season. I wonder how much his unfamiliarity with the position played into his poor defense there. It might be possible for him to increase his efficiency with more repetitions at the position.

He can potentially be retained through the 2017 season. He has a guaranteed contract for 2016 at $7 million. There is also a team option for 2017 at $7 million with a $1 million buyout. That’s quite cheap these days, so even if he can’t post numbers like he did in 2015, he’ll likely still be worth the money.

It will be interesting to see what this trade means for the Angels infield. They could go with Escobar at either third or second base. They know what they have in Giavotella, which isn’t much. But as low as the ceiling is for him, they have no idea how Kubitza/Cowart will adjust to the major league level. There isn’t much on the free agent market for third base either.

In return, the Nationals get salary relief and right-handed reliever Trevor Gott. He comes with six years of team control, as last year was his first season at the major league level. He split the season between the minors though, so it wasn’t a full season, allowing for the extra year of control. He threw 47.2 innings at the major league level with a 13.4 K%, 7.9 BB%, 3.02 ERA, and 3.74 FIP. That K% is very low, but he has a much better track record in the minors so that could tick up a fair bit.

According to PITCHf/x he has a fastball that averages 96 mph. Along with that, he throws a curveball and occasionally a change-up. He was rated as the Angels 10th best prospect by FanGraphs going into the 2015 season, who rate both his fastball and curveball as above average to plus and give him “8th inning” potential.

Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs
Contract details courtesy of Cot’s Contracts

About Derek Harvey

Derek Harvey is a writer The Outside Corner, a featured writer for SB Nation's Brew Crew Ball, and a staff writer for Baseball Prospectus - Milwaukee. He's taking over the world one baseball site at a time!