Age: 30 (To turn 31 on January 5th)
2019 Stats: .269/.320/.511, 35 HR, 118 RBI, 111 OPS+, 109 wRC+, 4.2 bWAR, 3.7 fWAR
2019 Salary: $6,166,666
2020 Salary: $7,166,666, Signed through 2021
With the Arizona Diamondbacks sitting in first place in the National League West standings for most of the 2018 season, Mike Hazen swung a deadline deal to land Eduardo Escobar from the Minnesota Twins. Third base had been a glaring weakness for Arizona having lost Jake Lamb to injury early in the season, but Escobar’s positional flexibility would allow Torey Lovullo to play him at second base on occasion. He was originally thought to be only a half season rental for the 2018 season, but Hazen was so impressed with Escobar’s career year that he used Arizona’s exclusive negotiating window following the end of the season to sign him to a three year twenty-one million dollar extension. Arizona loved having him, and the feeling was obviously mutual because Eduardo didn’t even bother with jumping into his first foray of free agency. As you’ll see, he isn’t loved by fans, teammates, and coaches only for what he does on the field, as incredible as he his, but also because of his infectious personality outside the lines.
“I like it here because of the people. It’s a great group. Everybody is together. Everybody has one mentality, same page. The first day (after the trade), everybody was so nice to me. Now, it’s my first full season in Arizona and I know everybody. It’s different. It feels different.” -Eduardo Escobar, The Athletic
Going into the 2019 season, Eddie was looking to build off of a career season in 2018 with newfound contract stability. Arizona would be deploying him as the everyday third baseman while moving Jake Lamb across the diamond to first base. Critics had their reservations about Escobar matching or even replicating his 2018 results and for good reason. He was entering his age 30 season and had notched career highs in most every statistical category. Not only did he improve with an All Star worthy performance in 2019, but he quickly became a fan favorite as well for his unmatched humor and smile.
He is enamored with Fogo De Chao, a Brazilian steakhouse with locations all across the country including Minneapolis (remember he came over in a trade from Minnesota) and Scottsdale. His slogan is “Fogo Power” and you can often hear him say it during a postgame victory interview. Some players need performance enhancing drugs, but Eddie just needs a good Brazilian steak to fuel his play. I’ll take it.
Eduardo has a phobia of cats, and his teammates jump at every opportunity to give him flak about it. The thing about team sports is that if you ever have any kind of quirk, superstition, or phobia, you better not let your teammates find out unless you don’t mind being given a hard time. Have a vehicle that you absolutely love to drive to the ballpark everyday? Don’t be surprised to find one of it’s wheels in your locker when the game is finished. Got a lucky pair of batting gloves that you use only in your first at bat of the game? Now all of the sudden they’re missing until you find them in the sunflower seed bucket. Eduardo Escobar was not immune. His teammates would torment him with cats pregame, both fake and real.
His infectious personality makes him easy to love as a person. It makes it all the better for fans that he was one of the best players on the team as well for he led the Major Leagues in triples (10), and set career highs in hits (171), home runs (35), RBI (118), and OPS (.831). Escobar’s average exit velocity increased from 86.5 MPH to 87.8 MPH, and his increase in power did not come at the expense of his contact skills as evidenced by his K% dropping to a career low 18.6%.
Determining his best game of the 2019 season is a bit of a challenge depending on how you want to define it, so I’m making an executive decision and selecting June 10th at the Philadelphia Phillies. It was a game in which he tallied eleven total bases when the ball was flying out of the park at an alarming rate for both teams. Arizona and Philadelphia combined to hit thirteen home runs on the evening, eight for the D’backs and five for the Phillies, setting a new MLB record for combined home runs in a game. Escobar was accountable for two such long balls with two run shots in consecutive at bats in the fourth and fifth innings. He didn’t stop there adding a double and a single for good measure, falling a triple shy of the cycle which is ironic considering he was the MLB leader in triples.
“(Personality is) a huge gift that he has,” Lovullo said. “He says the right things the right way at the right time. There’s an incredible intensity to him also when we’re in between the white lines and it’s go time. There’s nobody more focused than he is. But when it’s time to lighten things up and be a good teammate or say the right thing at the right time, he’s got a great personality.” -The Athletic
Escobar accomplishes all this as a switch hitter who can play multiple positions making it nearly impossible to take him out of the lineup. It is why he played in 158 games this season falling one shy of 700 plate appearances. It’s the type of player Mike Hazen has made a habit of targeting, giving Torey Lovullo a healthy amount of roster flexibility. Indeed, Escobar has already made well on his contract in the first year of it alone, and there is reason to believe he will continue to add surplus value in the final two seasons. FanGraphs has him calculated at $29.3 million dollars in value based on his 2019 performance. However, championships are not won based on theoretical $/WAR values, so Mike Hazen will look to continue to place additional valuable pieces around Escobar and others with the goal being to win a World Series.
He will likely, hopefully, be penciled in as the everyday starting third baseman again for 2020, but it remains to be seen what other roster moves will be made before the start of the season. As it stands, the Diamondbacks need to add at least both a starting outfielder and second baseman. It has been speculated that the team would like to deploy Ketel Marte at second base more frequently than center field to keep his legs fresh which would allow Escobar to stay put at third base. Regardless, it’s been a delight watching Escobar play for the the past season and a half, and I’m looking forward to what he can accomplish in 2020.