Keeping infield together a key to locking up shortstop with extension
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays are keeping the band together -- at least the infield section -- as the team announced Saturday that shortstop Yunel Escobar had signed a two-year contract extension worth a guaranteed $13 million.
"Yunel has been a tremendous addition to our infield and was a critical part of our success last year," said Andrew Friedman, executive vice president of baseball operations. "He brings enthusiasm and energy to our group on a daily basis to go along with his abilities on the field. We are excited to have the opportunity to extend his time in our uniform."
The deal breaks down as follows: $5 million in 2015, and $7 million for 2016. The club holds a $7 million option for 2017 that has a $1 million buyout. Escobar will contribute to the Rays Baseball Foundation during the course of the deal.
"Obviously, I'm really happy getting to be here now for a few years," said Escobar through communications coordinator George Pappas..
The move insures the team can keep together the current infield at least through the 2015 season based on the contracts in place and club options for third baseman Evan Longoria, second baseman Ben Zobrist and first baseman James Loney.
"Obviously, a big driver for us, to be able to keep Longo, Escy, Zo and Loney together is something that was really important to us," Friedman said. "When we got to the end of last year and really took a critical look back on the 2013 season, the infield was something that was obviously a strength in a lot of different facets. It's something that we wanted to try to keep together. Obviously, bringing Loney back, now doing this with Escobar, for at least as far out as we can see, we'll have this group together."
The Rays acquired Escobar from the Marlins on Dec. 4, 2012, in exchange for infielder Derek Dietrich. He arrived toting a notorious past, highlighted by a 2012 incident when he played for the Blue Jays and wrote an anti-gay slur on his eye black. That resulted in a three-game suspension for the native of Havana, Cuba.
Alas, true Major League shortstops are difficult to come by. So the Rays pulled the trigger on the deal with the Marlins to acquire Escobar. And the rest is history. Escobar thrived in the new environment with the Rays.
"I've been very pleased with him," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "His teammates have been very pleased with him. And as an organization we're very happy."
Escobar, 31, played in a career-high 153 games in 2013 and made 149 starts, second most by a shortstop in club history behind Julio Lugo (155 in 2005).
After establishing club records with a .989 fielding percentage (seven errors in 610 chances) and 53 consecutive errorless games at shortstop, he was named a finalist for the American League Rawlings Gold Glove Award.
Escobar made his first trip to the postseason in 2013 and led the Rays with a .421 batting average. In the final three games of the American League Division Series, he became the first player in club history to record multiple hits in three straight postseason games.
Escobar likes playing in the Rays organization, which proved to be a compelling reason for wanting to remain with the team.
"I think it's one of the best things that ever happened in my career," Escobar said. "I came here last year. To come into a winning organization, the treatment was right. We want to compete this year."
All of the Rays infielders were Gold Glove finalists in 2013. Maddon addressed what having the group in the fold means to the organization.
"They're all good enough to be good for several more years," Maddon said. "It's almost like a good offensive team, except they're playing defense. Or maybe let's just go to defense. Let's talk about a well-oiled defensive machine in the NFL as an example, and those guys play together for awhile.
"You know what the other guy's thinking, you know his movements. Feeds at the bag, what they're able to cover, nuances of guys liking popups better than another guy likes popups. Kind of like that one heartbeat thing. So it does matter. It definitely matters."
Escobar allowed that wanting to remain a part of the current infield was one of the reasons he approached Friedman about the extension.
"I feel like this team is a team that can qualify to play in the playoffs and win a World Series, and I hope to play with the same infield for another three or four years," Escobar said. "This is the one organization that's treated me the best in my career. So to be here, I really do feel very happy, and I think that's very important."
Over the past three seasons, Escobar's .982 fielding percentage ranks third in the Major Leagues (minimum of 400 starts) behind Baltimore's J.J. Hardy (.988) and Philadelphia's Jimmy Rollins (.983).
According to Stats LLC, Escobar's .853 zone rating over the past two seasons leads all Major League shortstops (minimum 200 starts).
Escobar owns a career .278 batting average and .350 on-base percentage. In 2013, he batted .256 with nine home runs, 56 RBI sand a career-high 27 doubles. After the All-Star break, his .362 on-base percentage ranked fifth among Major League shortstops.