The Oakland A's continued their aggressive push for the AL West division crown by placing a revocable waiver claim on Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Yunel Escobar, and they were awarded that claim on Sunday. From the time of this publishing, both teams will have 24 hours to work out a deal, and it would be in their best interests to get it done.
For the A's, who are going as "all-in" as a team can possibly go this season, finding someone to replace the injured Jed Lowrie could be the difference between winning the AL West and ending up in the unpredictable wild-card game. Lowrie was already struggling this season with a .238/.317/.354 line, and he doesn't appear close to returning after sustaining a fractured right index finger on Aug. 4 against, ironically, the Rays. Now, that injury could be the catalyst that triggers the deal to bring over Tampa Bay's shortstop.
Escobar's defense is his calling card, though that hasn't quite been the case this season. After he posted a 12.2 UZR/150 in 2013 that put him third among all qualified shortstops, that number has fallen by nearly 40 points, to -25.3. (For some perspective, that's second-worst among all position players, ahead of only Dexter Fowler.)
Escobar has developed somewhat of a reputation for "laziness" with the Rays, and the saying that a change of scenery could do a player some good has never seemed more apt. Of course, simply moving to the A's wouldn't necessarily solve Escobar's defensive issues, but being in the thick on a division race certainly couldn't hurt. He'd also never posted a negative UZR at shortstop in six full seasons before this year, which means the sharp decline could be more mental than physical.
It also comes down to what other options the A's realistically have. With Lowrie out for perhaps the rest of the regular season, the A's could hope current shortstop Eric Sogard's hot streak (.275/.420/.400 in August) continues for as long as they need it to. But it's never great practice to rely on a hitter with a .297 career on-base percentage to play one of the most important positions on the diamond during the most critical month of the season.
At the very least, the A's could consider platooning Escobar and Sogard if they're able to work out a deal. The latter is hitting .129 with no extra-base hits in 36 plate appearances against lefties this season, while Escobar is hitting .291 in 95 PAs against them. A's manager Bob Melvin loves platoons, and Escobar could fit in perfectly with that mindset.
Escobar's contract could also allow the A's to keep him around through the end of the 2017 season, though they could decline his option for the final year (for a $1 million buyout) if his defense fails to improve, and pay him $13 million over the next two seasons.
Of course, the Rays also have to be willing to give up Escobar, and the team's recent addition of Nick Franklin (via the David Price trade) could help seal the deal. The Rays are having trouble digging out of their early-season hole, and their playoff hopes are continuing to dim. The replacement options for Escobar aren't stellar—perhaps moving Wil Myers into the outfield from his DH spot and sticking Ben Zobrist back in the infield, or simply putting Nick Franklin in the six hole. But if the Rays don't want to pay Escobar $13 million over the next two seasons, their time to act is now.
The clock is ticking and a deal doesn't seem particularly likely, but it could be a potential game-changer for the A's in the AL West.