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July 27, 2009 at 9:57 AM

Alcides Escobar versus J.J. Hardy: Who is the better Mariners (and Brewers) fit?

Lots of speculation in the blogosphere today about whether or not the Milwaukee Brewers would give up 22-year-old shortstop prospect Alcides Escobar over Brewers regular shortstop J.J. Hardy. Much of this arises from previous statements by Brewers GM Doug Melvin that Escobar was untouchable.
Others have pointed out that the Brewers have balked at moving Escobar and third base prospect Mat Gamel in a deal for Roy Halladay. So, why on earth, the logical question goes, would they move one or the other in a trade with the Mariners involving Jarrod Washburn?
As I said, that’s a good question. And here’s the answer.
Trading for Halladay, who visits Safeco Field with the Toronto Blue Jays tonight, is hardly the same thing as dealing for Washburn. The Jays are looking at an “Erik Bedard type” deal from any Halladay suitors, which, in Brewers parlance, means they’d have to part with Escobar, Gamel, and likely a bunch of others to even get in on the discussions.
Nobody is going to ask for both guys in a Washburn deal.

As for Gamel, the Brewers still aren’t sure they have a reliable third baseman of the future at the moment, even though they just shipped Gamel and his .743 OPS back to AAA a week ago. Casey McGehee has been a surprise off-season pickup offensively so far and is now back at third after Felipe Lopez came on to play second. Moving forward, if the Brewers were to lack a suitable everyday third baseman for next season, Gamel could be that guy. Either that, or, if McGehee continues to slug like he has, Gamel’s big bat could ultimately be used at first base if the Brewers don’t offer a long-term extension to Prince Fielder. who is under contract for one more year, at $10 million next season.
From Seattle’s perspective, it’s questionable whether Gamel, who has been described as everything from adequate to “a butcher” in the field would suit Seattle’s defensive needs as a third baseman. Remember, the new Jack Zduriencik regime prides itself on defense.
So, from the perspectives of both teams, a Gamel move doesn’t seem likely.
But with Escobar, things are different. Escobar does have a good glove and the Mariners have a long-term need at shortstop. Remember, the Mariners have discussed moving prospect Carlos Triunfel to third base, so that middle infield hole will still be there in a couple of years.
If the Mariners trade for J.J. Hardy, seen in the photo above, he would essentially be a one-year stop-gap in 2010 and then a free-agent. Then what? If Triunfel goes to third, who plays shortstop?
From everything I’ve been told as well, Hardy is a key part of that Brewers clubhouse and a core member of the 2008 playoff team and the 2009 squad now contending for another post-season berth. If the goal is to make the playoffs in 2009, which the Brewers are obviously shooting for or else they would not be entertaining a Washburn deal, then it seems counterproductive to rip out a core member from that group and thrust an untested 22-year-old rookie like Escobar into a playoff race.
It’s been done before with some success. Franklin Gutierrez of the Mariners was a big part of the Cleveland Indians’ playoff drive in 2007. But there have also been some well-documented failures. Remember all the finger-pointing that went on in Los Angeles two years ago when James Loney and Matt Kemp were called up by the Dodgers and clubhouse harmony was thrown out of whack? Sure, those two helped the Dodgers in 2008 and 2009, just like Escobar would obviously be an asset for the Brewers down the road.
But we’re talking about right now. The 2009 season. That’s what the Brewers are worried about, or they wouldn’t be in on Washburn.
And so, if that’s the case, you don’t go replacing your everyday shortstop with a rookie in the heat of a pennant race. You could risk it, but I don’t think the Brewers will. They have their shortstop already. That’s not an area that needs upgrading. The Brewers are “buyers” and not “sellers”.
Yeah, they’ll be in a position next year where Hardy will be in his final season. But that’s next year. Each team has a limited playoff window. At worst, the Brewers can say they had Hardy for last year’s playoff push, this year’s as well and possibly a playoff drive next season. If things keep going well and he remains a key part of the clubhouse, he’d likely consider a long-term extension in any event. Probably more so than if he were to play for a few months on a Mariners team he knows little about other than who the GM is.
From both perspectives, an Escobar deal seems to make more sense than a Hardy trade. Was that why he was pulled from a Class AAA game yesterday? Who knows? Some of you have mentioned that his team was down by 10 runs when he was yanked in the seventh inning. But it’s also worth noting that his team was trailing by eight runs in the fifth and he was still allowed to play for two more innings.
But again, who knows? Maybe the Brewers really are going to trade Hardy and want Escobar up and ready to replace him. I just don’t see it in Seattle. A trade for Hardy is one the Mariners make as a “buyer” for a playoff push now. Not for the future.
Now, as I said yesterday, it’s doubtful Washburn alone could land Escobar. But that’s where you get creative. That’s where a piece like Brandon Morrow, long coveted by the Brewers, could be used as enticement. The Washburn piece gives them something for now — a big part of their playoff run. And Morrow gives them a building block for the future. Maybe it isn’t Morrow who gets the deal done. Maybe it’s somebody else. I doubt Wladimir Balentien would be enough. If you’re asking the Brewers to give up a solid building block, under club control for six more years, you have to throw in something other than a DFA player. You have to offer a building block in return.
So, for me, all the talk of Escobar being off-limits is mere posturing. It’s what all teams do with their prospects, building them up to be the greatest things ever to come into the game. But every team has a price. If the Mariners are offering the Brewers a needed arm, now that Dave Bush is on the DL and uncertain going forward, then they don’t have to throw in the minor league equivalent of Escobar to complete a deal. You do have to offer something for the future, just not necessarily a six-year cost-containable position player. You’re already giving them Washburn.
The Brewers are the desperate ones here. It’s their season at stake. Seattle’s season is pretty much done. Sure, the Mariners will try to solve some long-term issues with a Washburn trade. But if they don’t make one, the world won’t end. If they get something lesser than Escobar in a Washburn trade, their 2009 season will still pretty much be toast and they’ll have time later to get on with plans for 2010.
Escobar would be more like the cherry on the sundae.
For the Brewers, though, everything is at stake. They are a smaller market team and playoff revenue, even for only a few games, means a lot. And as we’ve seen in Seattle, the playoffs don’t come around every day. When you’ve got a realistic shot, you go for it.
So, the pressure is on the Brew Crew here. In the Mariners’ case, for once, they appear to actually be in the driver’s seat.
Photo Credit: Morry Gash/AP



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