Can Escobar repeat success from surprising season?


Age on opening day 2022: 35

How acquired: Traded from Royals for cash considerations, July 2021

MLB service time: 10 years, 3 days

2021 salary: $1 million

Contract status: Signed for $1 million in 2022, free agent in 2023

2021 stats: 75 G, 349 PA, 319 AB, 53 R, 92 H, 21 2B, 2 3B, 4 HR, 28 RBI, 3 SB, 0 CS, 17 BB, 56 SO, .288 AVG, .340 OBP, .404 SLG, .744 OPS, 105 OPS+, minus-4 DRS (at SS), 1 DRS (at 2B), 1.7 fWAR, 1.5 bWAR

Quotable: “Ever since the first moment I got to this team, I was willing to do whatever it took to help the team win. Whether I was on the field or off the field, I was going to do anything I could to help the team win. I’ve been working hard and giving the most out of me to do that, and so far it’s been working out.” - Alcides Escobar

Thumbnail image for Escobar-Swings-White-Sidebar.jpg2021 analysis: The Nationals acquired Alcides Escobar out of sheer desperation, there’s no way to get around that. After watching Trea Turner and Jordy Mercer get hurt June 30, while several potential minor league replacements also were injured, then Alex Avila strain both of his calf muscles playing second base in an emergency, they had no choice but to find the first available infielder out there to fill a gaping hole. So it was they found Escobar, a onetime stalwart of the Royals’ World Series lineup who last played in the big leagues in 2018, but was hanging around with Kansas City’s Triple-A club this summer.

Thrust immediately into the Nats lineup July 3 against the Dodgers as their starting shortstop, Escobar wound up with seven hits in his first 12 at-bats. And with Josh Harrison forced to play left field following Kyle Schwarber’s hamstring strain, he found a home at second base and in the leadoff spot throughout July.

Then, once Turner and Harrison were both dealt at the trade deadline, Escobar suddenly was entrenched as the Nationals’ everyday shortstop the rest of the way. He continued to produce out of the No. 2 spot in the lineup, putting his elite contact skills to work. He fouled off 31.3 percent of all strikes seen, and he hit .281 with two strikes (the fourth-highest rate in the majors).

Escobar also was exceptionally good in clutch situations, hitting a stout .379/.419/.561 with runners in scoring position. Put all that with a career-high on-base percentage and slugging percentage, and the 34-year-old wound up with an OPS+ over 100, making him an above-average hitter for the first time in his long career.

2022 outlook: One of the Nationals’ most-pressing questions at season’s end was at the shortstop position. Would they re-sign Escobar or attempt to upgrade with someone else? Within days, they announced the re-signing of Escobar to a modest $1 million deal.

That doesn’t automatically mean Escobar is the everyday shortstop heading into 2022. Given his versatility and affordability, he could easily figure into the plan as more of a jack-of-all-trades utility infielder, a role they envisioned for Harrison entering this season before circumstances forced him into the daily lineup.

But if they don’t make another move, the Nats know they’ve got an experienced shortstop in Escobar. Now it’s up to him to prove this season wasn’t a complete outlier, and that he does have a true second act in him. He’ll need to continue drawing walks as he did this year while continuing to show consistent enough pop to hit a lot of doubles and the occasional homer.

All that said, the Nationals can’t just assume Escobar is going to duplicate his surprising numbers again. They have to be prepared for some amount of drop-off. More than anything, they need him to be a steadying influence in the field and in the clubhouse, a rare veteran with championship experience on a roster that will be loaded with inexperienced teammates.

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