Before Chris Bassitt, before Max Scherzer, before even Starling Marte or Mark Canha, there was Eduardo Escobar. It’s easy to forget that the team’s offseason frenzy of moves began with Escobar, which kicked off a flurry of Black Friday activity. And while the 33-year-old is hardly the headliner in what has turned out to be a statement offseason for the Mets, he could prove to be a really solid addition for the club.
The Mets inked the 11-year veteran to a two-year deal worth $20 million back in November, when the MLB lockout was just a mere threat and not something we knew would eat into three months of the offseason. Escobar comes to New York from the Brewers after spending much of the previous four years with the Diamondbacks. While their exact intentions with the infielder are not entirely known yet, he will presumably enter the season as their starting third baseman. In the coming days and weeks as they conclude their offseason moves, his exact role should come into focus more.
Escobar debuted for the White Sox in 2011 and spent parts of two seasons in Chicago before heading over to the Twins in the Francisco Liriano trade. Two years later, he posted a .275/.315/.406 slash line with a 101 wRC+ and a 2.9 fWAR in 133 games, which represented his first bit of sustained success at the major league level. He followed that up with a 1.9 fWAR in 2015, though his 2016 was one of his worst years in the league. He ended up finishing that season with a 63 wRC+ and a -0.1 fWAR in 105 games.
Since 2017, he’s established himself as a dependable presence, hitting .258/.316/.470 with 111 homers and a 103 wRC+ in 636 games. He’s posted an fWAR of three or higher in three of the past four seasons and has surpassed 20 home runs in four of the last five years. The Mets have enough offensive firepower at the top of the lineup that they won’t necessarily need Escobar to be the linchpin of their offense, but moreso just continue doing what he’s done over the past few years.
Moreso than his bat, which is decidedly average-to-slightly-above-average, his versatility and his durability are two of his main pluses. On the latter, he has played 151, 158, 54 (in a shortened 2020), and 146 games in the past four seasons. For a team that has watched injuries ravage their lineup way too many times, plugging someone into the lineup with that sort of track record of staying on the field is a big bonus.
On his versatility, Escobar can play every infield position to varying degrees. He is most likely to spend the bulk of his time at third base, where he spent almost two-third of his total time in 2021. As it currently stands, his main competition(s) for the position are J.D. Davis, who may find himself traded any day now, and Jeff McNeil, who also may be traded but, more than likely, will be the starting second baseman in 2022.
Escobar can also play second base, in case the club decides to move on from McNeil and/or if Robinson Canó has nothing left in the tank (Canó is more likely to DH, in any event). Escobar was actually better at second (11.2 UZR/150, -1 DRS) as compared to third base (2.6 UZR/150, -3 DRS) in 2021, though third base probably makes the most sense based on how the club’s roster is currently constructed. He also manned first base for the first time in his career last season and, although that is likely not something the Mets would need from him with Pete Alonso and Dominic Smith (for now) on the roster, it’s good to have. Finally, he has quite a bit of experience at shortstop, which could prove important if anything happens to Francisco Lindor. As it currently stands, Luis Guillorme is the only other player on the roster who could reasonably fill in at short if Lindor were to miss any significant time.
One final thing worth nothing on Escobar is that he received glowing praise from those who have played with him, and building a culture like this can be quite important when attempting to build a World Series contender. An Athletic article last year called Escobar “every Diamondback’s favorite teammate”. You can count current Mets Taijuan Walker (“Hands down one of the best teammates I’ve ever had”) and Trevor May (“An amazing guy and a great player”) among those who were happy to see the team sign him, as both have shared the locker room with Escobar in the past.
Escobar certainly isn’t a flashy move compared to other players the Mets could have signed to fill in at third base this offseason, but it could end up being a shrewd signing for New York. He’s the kind of guy every winning team has, and ones whose value become apparent when teams attain that success. While it would still be great to see the team shore up their lineup and find more of a utility role for Escobar, he should more than be able to hold his own while strengthening the bottom half of the lineup.