Even in some of the Minnesota Twins’ more forgettable seasons of the last decade, the team had a source of energy and passion that couldn’t be ignored.
Former Twin Eduardo Escobar made a name for himself as a leader, both on the field and in the dugout, with his unique brand of pizzazz and passion for the game. He had it with the Twins, carried it with him over to the Arizona Diamondbacks, and until yesterday, he was putting it on display in the postseason with the Milwaukee Brewers.
While the 2021 Twins club went into the season with a talented group of guys on paper, their team magic seemingly ran out two weeks into the season. And without a “glue guy” to hold the squad together, the season started to fall apart faster than a proposal at a minor league baseball game.
It’s hard to say whether Escobar could have saved the season for this year’s Twins club. But something should be evident as we approach the off-season: He can be part of the solution for bringing some magic back to the clubhouse.
When the Twins traded Escobar at the deadline in 2018, he was probably their best overall player. The trade was justified, as he was due to hit free agency at the end of the year, and they were able to get a good return headlined by Jhoan Duran, who currently is the Twins’ No. 6 prospect, according to Fangraphs. Still, he was batting .274/.338/.514 (.852 OPS) and was bringing smiling faces to Twins Territory daily. Since then, his performance has been parallel to that of his former club. Both parties enjoyed two good seasons and one clunker.
Escobar accrued at least 3.0 fWAR in two of his three campaigns, with his only lackluster performance occurring in an abnormal, pandemic-shortened 2020 season. In both of the other years, his offense was worth at least seven percent above average (107 wRC+) thanks to solid power numbers (35 homers in 2019, 28 this season) and late-game heroics.
This season, the veteran infielder had a whopping 14 home runs in innings 7-9, good for second-most in all of baseball, according to Inside Edge. That trails only Marcus Semien of the Toronto Blue Jays, a surefire MVP finalist who is set to make a killing in this year’s free-agent market.
Escobar has also driven in 81 runs in late-innings since 2019, fourth-most in MLB. This should pique the Twins’ interest, as they ranked 29th in runs driven in after the 6th inning this year. That should pass the eye test for most fans, as repeatedly it seemed like the team followed the same script where they would score early and then go completely cold. Injecting Escobar as a late-inning hero could help to balance out what should be a strong lineup.
His versatility should also catch Minnesota’s eye. While he doesn’t directly address shortstop, their biggest hole on the diamond, he has proven that he can be a competent fielder everywhere else around the infield. Could Josh Donaldson use a day or two at DH? Plug Escobar in at third base. Luis Aarraez’s trick knees bothering him again? Let Escobar take over at second. Is there a right-handed pitcher with a sweeping slider starting against the Twins? Play the platoon advantage and let Escobar fill in at first base while Miguel Sanó rides the pine.
The Twins are also used to building their roster around versatility, which probably won’t change next year, barring some major turnover. Jorge Polanco, Arraez, and Alex Kirilloff have all shown the ability to play multiple spots, with other minor-role players such as Nick Gordon and Willians Astudillo following suit. Add Escobar to this group, and it gives Rocco Baldelli a ton of flexibility on any given day.
It’ll be interesting to see what sort of contract Escobar secures this off-season. He’s been effective for most of the past four seasons, and few players can match his versatility while also providing above-average offensive production. Then again, he is entering his age-33 season and has shown signs of losing some of the edge to his game. While he has overcome this challenge to some extent, his numbers against fastballs are starting to decline. Over the last three seasons, Escobar has only mustered a .107 batting average on pitches 95 MPH or higher (league average is .211). That’s the kind of trend for a hitter that is hard to turn around as they get older.
While it would be a disappointment if Escobar was the Twins’ biggest acquisition this off-season, he could still play a vital role as the team tries to climb its way back into contention. No, he doesn’t help a beleaguered starting rotation, and he doesn’t do much to fill the hole at shortstop. Maybe he’s not a middle-of-the-order bat who can help supplant Nelson Cruz. But Escobar can provide the leadership, passion, and flair that the Twins’ clubhouse has been sorely lacking. They need someone who can fill multiple holes by playing every day. They need a “glue guy.” They need a horse.
They need a Caballo.