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the-one-guy-who-should-really-be-untouchable-v15-2507 | October | 2008 Articles

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The One Guy Who Should Really Be Untouchable

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No, it's not Jason Heyward. It's Yunel Escobar. Of course, Jason Heyward should be pretty much untouchable too. He certainly shouldn't be considered for a possible Jake Peavy deal. But he's 19, has played a grand total of 7 games of High-A ball, is still at least two years from the majors, and you have to discount his future value against the always-present possibility that he never lives up to his potential. Meanwhile, Yunel Escobar, in his first full season, was the single best defensive shortstop in the majors, according to some fielding metrics, and though you might not realize it he was one of the best offensive shortstops in baseball too. He had the third-highest OBP among all major league starting shortstops, and despite a shoulder injury that sapped his power for much of the season he still had the 9th-highest OPS+. At the bottom of both lists, OBP and OPS+, is the guy some are talking about flipping for Yunel in a possible Peavy deal: Khalil Greene. One of the reasons Yunel should be untouchable is that it's basically impossible to replace an extremely cheap, team-controlled shortstop who's one of the best fielders and hitters at his position. The other reason is that replacing him with Greene, who has all of the glove but really none of the bat, would be an offensive disaster of Francoeurian proportions. Greene has been trending down for a long time. 2008, obviously, was about as wretched a season as you can have without being named Tony Pena Jr. -- .213/.260/.339 in 105 games and 389 ABs, before punching a cabinet, breaking his hand, and ending his season -- but the problem is that it didn't come out of nowhere. Over the past five seasons, his strikeouts have been going up, his walks have been going down, his BA has been going down, his OBP has been going down, and, interestingly enough, his BABIP has decreased for five years in a row. When he came up, he had a lot of power but spotty plate discipline and low batting average; since then, he kept the power but his average and OBP have plummetted. He'll turn 29 in a few days, and he's looking dangerously close to washed-up as a hitter. And he's making $6.5 million next year, which means he'd also be eating into whatever savings we might net from Peavy's below-market contract. Of course, Yunel also has a backup within the organization, Brent Lillibridge, and this year Brent made Khalil look competent. Lillibridge had a fantastic year in 2006 in the Pirates' organization, where he posted a combined line of .305/.419/.480 in A and high-A and was included in the Adam LaRoche trade. In 2007, though, he was advanced perhaps too aggressively, and he posted a combined line of .282/.341/.417 in AA and AAA, losing a lot of his power and a lot of his OBP. This year, of course, was far worse: .220/.294/.344 in Richmond and .200/.238/.338 in 80 at-bats in the majors. (The Major League Equivalency for his 2007 at half-year at Richmond yields a line of .244/.284/.361, which really isn't that far off from what he actually produced in the majors this year, and is almost exactly what he hit in Richmond this year.) He's 25 years old -- less than a year younger than Yunel -- so while he could get a little better he probably won't get a lot better. Based on their respective performances in 2008, replacing Yunel with either Greene or Lillibridge would be catastrophic. Based on their current trends, Khalil Greene looks like he's on his way to the bench or the minors, Lillibridge looks like he'll never escape the bench or the minors, and Yunel looks like one of the next star shortstops in the game. We cannot afford to let him go. Not even for Jake Peavy.
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