Gonzalez provides great value at short
With Yunel Escobar’s attitude becoming even more of a problem, it seemed quite obvious that the Braves had best satisfied their immediate needs when they sent him to Toronto in exchange for fellow shortstop Alex Gonzalez at last year’s All-Star break.
For a 2 1/2-month span, there was no doubt Gonzalez would serve as the better fit in the Braves lineup and most definitely in their clubhouse. But thinking Escobar might eventually mature and wondering how mobile Gonzalez would be at the age of 34, I wasn’t so sure the deal would look as good once this season concludes.
There is a lot of season left. But there is no longer reason to wonder if Frank Wren made the right move when he made this trade to the delight of his players, who gave Gonzalez a standing ovation when he walked in the clubhouse before playing his first game for Atlanta last year.
During the four seasons he spent with the Braves, the 28-year-old Escobar proved he could do some special things with his glove. But the 34-year-old Gonzalez has spent the first month of this season proving to be even more valuable in the field and at the plate.
It truly seems like Gonzalez has made a sensational defensive play on a nightly basis this year. Along with drilling the game-winning three-run double in last night’s sixth inning off Yovani Gallardo, the veteran shortstop added to his highlight reel with a couple more defensive gems.
The one that sticks out occurred in the fourth inning, while he was on the other side of second base with a shift on against Prince Fielder. When Fielder produced a chopper up the middle, the veteran shortstop charged the ball, grabbed it as he passed the second base bag and made a strong throw across his body to record the out.
It’s not a play you see everyday and certainly not one that is practiced. But it was one that allowed Gonzalez to once again make the difficult look easy.
“He’s swinging it pretty good,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said of his veteran shortstop. “Really I love the offense and I love the run production. But I could care (less) if he hits .085 the way he plays defense. I know it’s hard to equate. But we’re 15-15 and if it wasn’t for him playing shortstop, we might be three or four games under (.500).”
Another post-trade concern was that Escobar would eventually regain power he had when he hit 14 homers in 2009 and that the 17 homers Gonzalez hit before the last year’s All-Star break were partially a product of something odd occurring in Toronto.
Well Jose Bautista is still hitting homers for the Blue Jays and Gonzalez has continued to provide the Braves with consistent power. He has hit .241 with four homers and a .420 slugging percentage in 30 games for the Braves this season.
Escobar has hit .267 with two homers and a .386 slugging percentage in 26 games for the Blue Jays this year.
There’s still a chance Escobar will eventually live up to his tremendous potential. But nearly 10 full months since he was sent to Toronto, there doesn’t seem to be anybody in the Braves organization worried about the fact that he could do so while benefiting another organization.
(Lack of) Speed Kills: Nobody expected the Braves to be among the league leaders in stolen bases. In fact, some of you might not even be surprised to see they rank last in the Majors with five stolen bases. But it does seem ridiculous that they have been successful with just five of their 15 stolen base attempts this year.
The Braves are the only Major League team that has a lower than 50 percent success rate with stolen base attempts this year. The only club with a 50 percent success rate entering Tuesday was the White Sox, who had been successful with 17 of their 34 attempts.
Making matters worse is the feeling that the Braves haven’t even been close with many of their stolen base attempts. Many of the 10 unsuccessful attempts have come via botched hit-and-run situations, like last night when Martin Prado was thrown out by two Priest Lauderdales (you thought you’d never hear his name again) during the first inning.
As they continue to prove unsuccessful on the basepaths, the Braves might want to avoid aggressively going for the green when it’s apparent they don’t have the right club in their bag. As Prado slid toward second base last night, I saw visions of Roy “Tin Cup” McAvoy.