In the first of a trio of surprise moves on Black Friday, the Mets inked infielder Eduardo Escobar to a two year, $20 million deal. A move that was almost immediately covered up by the fireworks that followed, Escobar is nonetheless a useful addition to a roster in need of quality complementary pieces.
Escobar stared his career in Minnesota before being traded to Arizona in 2018 during something of a breakout year. He stayed in the desert on a three-year, $21 million deal before being traded again, this time to the Brewers at last year’s trade deadline. Since 2018, he’s posted a .259/.318/.475 slash line, hitting 90 homers and accruing 9.5 fWAR while playing generally fine defense anywhere you put him on the dirt. Aside from a blip in 2020—which is a year we should largely toss out at this point—he’s been a model of consistency, posting slightly above average offensive lines, staying on the field, and accruing three or more wins (by fWAR) each season.
A switch hitter, Escobar doesn’t have the advanced metrics you’d expect from someone who routinely hits 25 or more home runs. His average exit velocity and hard hit percentage are both poor, ranking in the 14th and 20th percentiles by Statcast, respectively. What he does do well, however, is pull the ball in the air. From both sides of the plate, Escobar pulled more than 45% of his batted balls last season, and he has a particular penchant for yanking balls down the line as a LHH. This is evident just from visual inspection of his spray chart:
The ability to pull the ball is a legitimate skill set, and as long as you’re keeping those pulled balls in the air it’s a boon to your overall line. Even without blistering exit velocities or forearms the size of Popeye’s, Escobar is a real power hitter. Will this particular sort of power hitter age as well as one who relies on brute strength? Perhaps not, and Escobar doesn’t have a ton in the way of secondary skills to fall back on as he doesn’t walk a ton or have a particularly elite hit tool. Still, he’s shown no major indicators of decline just yet, at least on the offensive side of the ball.
Defensively, Escobar began his career as a shortstop but is really no longer a viable option at the six. His best position is probably second base, but he has experience as a passable defender at both third and first. That’s a useful bit of flexibility, though it’s unclear how much the Mets can leverage that given that Escobar is the presumptive starter at either second or third base at the moment, with Jeff McNeil taking the other spot. Ideally, you’d like the Mets to add either an upgrade that pushes one of McNeil or Escobar to the bench, but they could also choose to add a similarly flexible player that rounds out the bench and allows whoever is managing the team in 2022 to move people around as necessary.
At the time of the signing, there was some warranted consternation among Met fans that Escobar portended an underwhelming offseason. He certainly fit a pattern of Mets behavior over the last decade where they over eagerly jump the market for second tier targets while bypassing better options. That fear is no longer relevant thankfully, and while there’s an argument that you still shouldn’t be rushing to lock in this sort of player so early in the offseason, Escobar is safely among the best complementary pieces available on the free agent market.
Any other concerns regarding the signing in the overall context of the Mets offseason will have to wait until our final grading piece where we can judge the slate of moves as a whole. For the moment, the Mets paid a reasonable price—perhaps with a bit of a surcharge for making this move so early—for a useful piece on a relatively short term deal. Not outstanding, but a good move, one that earns a B.