Nationals bringing back Escobar on one-year deal

Alcides Escobar, who enjoyed a career renaissance after joining a Nationals club desperate for healthy infielders this summer, will return in 2022. The club re-signed the veteran shortstop to a one-year contract today, taking care of that pressing matter less than 48 hours after its season ended.

Escobar became an unlikely regular for the Nats during the season’s second half, filling in admirably following the trade of Trea Turner (along with Max Scherzer) to the Dodgers as the club began a massive rebuilding effort. He hit .288 with 21 doubles, a .340 on-base percentage and .404 slugging percentage, totaling 1.7 WAR in 75 games and providing a steady veteran influence on an otherwise inexperienced roster down the stretch.

Thumbnail image for Escobar-Throws-Gray-Sidebar.jpgThe new deal doesn’t necessarily guarantee Escobar will be the Nationals’ starting shortstop come opening day. There are a number of other moving parts, and they could opt to add a more prominent free agent this winter. But if they don’t, they know they’ve got a capable short-term solution at shortstop for 2022, and at worst a versatile and affordable backup infielder who can also play second and third bases if needed, a role comparable to that held by Josh Harrison to begin this season.

Escobar was due to become a free agent after the World Series. By re-signing him now, the Nationals retain his services before he could negotiate with other clubs.

It’s a fairly remarkable turn of events for Escobar, who had been a mainstay on the Royals’ World Series clubs of 2014-15 but didn’t appear in a big league game in 2019 and spent 2020 playing in Japan. He was back with Kansas City’s Triple-A affiliate this season when a desperate Nationals club came calling the first week of July, having seen Turner jam a finger, Jordy Mercer strain a quadriceps muscle, several minor league options get hurt as well and even veteran catcher Alex Avila strain both calf muscles playing second base in an emergency.

Escobar joined the Nats on July 3, spent much of that month as the starting second baseman and then spent the final two months as the starting shortstop following Turner’s trade to Los Angeles. His offensive production, featuring an uncanny ability to make contact, especially with two strikes, earned him the No. 2 spot in manager Davey Martinez’s lineup. He also hit .379 with runners in scoring position, trailing only Juan Soto on the roster in that category.

In the field, Escobar was far from stellar - he ranked 23rd out of 33 major league shortstops with at least 500 innings played with minus-4 Defensive Runs Saved - but he made more than his share of highlight-reel plays and finished with a .969 fielding percentage (only .001 below league average at his position).

After seeing their overhauled lineup continue to enjoy success after the trade deadline, the Nationals enter the winter with only a handful of questions to answer around the diamond. If Escobar winds up the starting shortstop, he figures to be in the infield alongside young second baseman Luis García and cleanup-hitting first baseman Josh Bell. Third base remains a position of potential need after Carter Kieboom again struggled to seize the opportunity to win the job long-term.

Escobar may not fit into the Nationals’ long-term plans for success, but with none of their top shortstop prospects likely to be ready to make an impact in 2022, he fits in well as a short-term solution.

blog comments powered by Disqus