Could the Cincinnati Reds Target Yunel Escobar?

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After finally obtaining their left fielder by acquiring Marlon Byrd, it would be safe to assume the Cincinnati Reds have concluded their big offseason moves. However, if general manager Walt Jocketty truly wants to give his team a chance to make a run at the NL Central in 2015, the Reds are in drastic need of an offensive production at shortstop and Yunel Escobar could be the perfect fit.

The Tampa Bay Rays left many scratching their heads when they signed Asdrubal Cabrera to a one-year, $8 million contract, leading those around the league to assume a trade of super-utility man Ben Zobrist was on the horizon. But perhaps it isn’t Zobrist who could be on the move.

The Cabrera signing immediately put Zobrist and Escobar on the trading block, due to budget constraints and an influx of middle infielders. Despite Zobrist’s name being hot on the rumor mill, Escobar’s fit with the Reds is too obvious to ignore. With owner Bob Castellini determined to make one last stand in 2015, it would behoove the Reds to begin discussions with Tampa Bay regarding the possibility of acquiring the steady Escobar.

Combining Escobar with Byrd would provide the Reds with the deepest, most complete lineup they have had in years.

Since 2012, Zack Cozart has manned shortstop for the Reds. While his defense has been second to none, his offense has left much to be desired. After hitting just .221/.268/.300 in 2014, it became evident that Cozart’s struggles at the plate were hindering Cincinnati. Given the addition of Byrd to the lineup, Cozart has become the glaring weak link in an otherwise proven lineup.

By adding Escobar, the Reds would not only improve the offensive production they are receiving out of the shortstop position but they would also address an issue that has plagued the team in recent years – on base percentage. Not only was Escobar’s 2014 OBP .324, but it was 56 points higher than that of Cozart and would have been third best among Cincinnati starters (behind Devin Mesoraco‘s .359 and Todd Frazier‘s .336).

Despite Cozart’s reputation for superb defense, he and Escobar compare favorably. Over the past three seasons, Cozart has committed 38 errors while Escobar has been charged with 35. Additionally, Cozart has 630 putouts in 435 games compared to Escobar’s 616 in 432 games over the same time span.

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The Rays are attempting to reduce their 2015 payroll, despite the Cabrera signing saying otherwise. Escobar, signed through 2016 with a team option for 2017, is due to make $7 million each of the next two seasons (assuming his option is picked up). Moving Escobar could help the Rays offset the Cabrera signing and reduce the middle infield logjam that currently resides.

Considering the Reds’ stable of young arms in their farm system, Tampa Bay could target a young pitcher in trade talks and continue doing what they prefer – obtaining and cultivating young talent. With top shortstop prospect Willy Adames making his way through Tampa’s lower minor leagues, it has become evident that Escobar is not in the long-term plans for the Rays. However, at 32-years old, he still has plenty of productive years to give.

Combining Escobar with the previously acquired Byrd would provide the Reds with the deepest, most complete lineup they have had in years. In doing so, the Reds could give their pitching staff something they haven’t been accustomed to in quite some time – adequate run support.