The Washington Nationals acquired Yunel Escobar during the offseason this year from the Oakland Athletics in exchange for Tyler Clippard. This move created a lot of grumbling from the Nats’ faithful as Clippard was a beloved figured and Escobar had a bit of a checkered past. This move turned out to be good and bad for the Nats this year as Yunel far exceeded expectations as .314 hitter with passable defense at third and second, but the back-end of the bullpen, as we are all well aware, did not fare well this season. Clippard would have been a huge addition to that beleaguered group. Nevertheless, Yunel Escobar had an outstanding season with the Nationals.
Escobar was the only player on the team who put up consistently good numbers, aside from the obvious Bryce Harper, on this year’s team. He finished the year with a .314/.375/.415 slash line, and he had three, five-hit games and four four-hit games this season. He also filled in at third base for the club while Anthony Rendon started the year on the DL. He remained at third for most of the year, as the club was hesitant to switch him back to his natural position halfway through the year.
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It is no doubt that Escobar had a great offensive year, but his career numbers reflect a possible regression in store for next year. In addition, his defense was passable. He was the worst fielding short-stop in the league in 2014. Escobar was still prone to questionable errors this season (see Max Scherzer‘s no hitter against the Mets). Although, advanced defensive metrics still have him at below replacement level, he did improve and this improvement came at a new position.
Escobar presents a tough decision for the Nats front office. One the one hand, Escobar had a great year and it would be difficult to part ways with a player that finished sixth for the batting title in the National League. On the other hand, his defense leaves a bit to be desired and his trade value will not be higher than it is right now. The front office also has to know Escobar probably will not repeat this years performance as he may have benefited from some luck with a higher than average BABIP at .348 coupled with his high ground-ball rate at 2.35 GB/FB ratio. These stats suggest Yunel is ripe for a dip back down to below a .300 batting average.
The Washington Nationals owe Escobar $7 million next year and he has have a player option of $7 million for 2017 with a $1 million buy-out. With Escobar being worth a little over two wins this year, this is a great contract for the Nats that has appealing trade value. Mike Rizzo will have to decide whether to trust his younger cadre of slick fielding middle infielders, or go with the only consistent offensive output of the 2015 season of Yunel Escobar.
No matter what happens with Escobar this offseason, it has been a joy to watch him play. His flair may seem to some to be over the top, but he always comes to work and hustles on every play. You can tell he loves the game and has fun while putting up great numbers.