Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane has had the busiest offseason of any GM, making nine trades involving 27 players in total. His most recent deal, swapping shortstop Yunel Escobar for Washington Nationals relief pitcher Tyler Clippard, was his best one of the winter.

Beane acquired Escobar and utility man Ben Zobrist from the Tampa Bay Rays for catcher John Jaso and prospects Daniel Robertson and Boog Powell on January 10.

The Athletics needed someone to fill in at short after allowing Jed Lowrie to walk, and they got their man from Tampa Bay. But it was Zobrist, not Escobar, as he was flipped to the Nationals for Clippard four days later.

Shortstop is arguably the weakest offensive position in the league, and Escobar has long enjoyed a reputation as an above-average hitter. His best season came with the Atlanta Braves in 2009, when he hit .299/.377/.436.

The problem is, he hasn’t hit at such a high level since 2011. His OPS has fallen under .700 in each of the last three seasons, and he’s only hit double-digit home runs in three of his eight major league seasons.

Middle infielders don’t often carry a lot of power, so Escobar‘s waning power isn’t a deal-breaker on its own. But his 31 career stolen bases are surprisingly low for such a tenured shortstop, and if he’s not a threat in the batter’s box or on the basepaths, where is he a threat?

The answer: he’s a threat in the field—for his own team.

Defensive regression is natural for an aging shortstop, and Escobar is 32. Many players’ arm strength and/or agility starts disappearing around then.

Escobar was actually a good defensive player as recently as 2013, when he posted a 10.7 Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), more than double his previous career high and third in the majors among everyday shortstops, per Fangraphs. For comparison, Lowrie had a -6.7 UZR that season, third-worst in the majors for his position.

But Escobar‘s UZR shot down to an abysmal -17.0 in 2014, worst among starting shortstops by a wide margin. His range has all but disappeared, and the Nationals are expected to play him at second base, as the A’s would have.

In fact, Escobar‘s UZR over 150 games (UZR/150) in 2014 was the worst by a shortstop since Fangraphs began keeping track of the stat (h/t Athletics Nation’s Jeremy F. Koo).

Escobar never wanted to play for the A’s, and he would have been a horrible fit in Oakland. The A’s weren’t going to win over Bay Area fans by employing a middle infielder who once wrote an anti-gay slur into his eye black.

After the A’s claimed Escobar on waivers last August, his agent, Alex Esteban, told CBS’ Jon Heyman he was “very concerned” with Oakland’s selection. Tampa Bay pulled Escobar back from waivers after Esteban continued to drop hints about Escobar‘s aversion for suiting up in Oakland.

Clippard, on the other hand, shows no signs of fitting in poorly for the A’s. The Washington Post‘s James Wagner called himan earnest, thoughtful and funny teammate, who was always accountable—good or bad—for his performances and the teams’s performance.”

He has been named to two All-Star Games despite functioning as a set-up man—not a closer—for most of his career. With a 2.68 ERA in just over six years with the Nationals, he’s been one of the most consistent relief options in baseball throughout his career.

Clippard was the Nats closer in 2012 and has the stuff to end for the A’s—which he may be expected to do after Sean Doolittle’s slight rotator cuff tear.

 Oakland acquired a similarly steady relief arm last season in Luke Gregerson, who turned in a 2.12 ERA and 1.01 WHIP in his one season with the A’s. Clippard is more of a power arm than Gregerson, but he should be just as good in an eighth-inning set-up role once Doolittle returns.

The A’s are flush with back-of-the-rotation starters, some of whom may turn into bullpen guys. They don’t actually have too many true right-handed relievers like Clippard, though, so he and Ryan Cook will be counted on as dependable late-inning arms.

Fans have bemoaned Beane‘s trading of five of the A’s seven 2014 All-Stars, but Clippard appeared in last year’s Midsummer Classic for the National League team. Oakland flipped an old, defenseless middle infielder with little pop for a shutdown bullpen arm.


Trade information courtesy of Athletics Nation. Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com, unless noted otherwise.

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