Yesterday, the Marlins – well, technically, folks reporting about the Marlins – made clear that they’re open to moving shortstop Yunel Escobar, who is under contract through 2013 for just $5 million, plus a couple $5 million club options in 2014 and 2015. I mentioned his availability in the round-up last evening, but reserved further discussion for a time when the Cubs were actually connected to Escobar in a credible rumor.

Well, it didn’t take long.

Per Jon Heyman, the Cubs – together with the Athletics, Rays, and Yankees – have reached out to the Marlins and checked in on Escobar. Jayson Stark takes it a step further, and says those four teams are “definitely in on” Escobar, whom the Marlins would “clearly like to move.”

If we were playing “one of these things is not like the others,” the answer should easily smack you over the head: each of the other three teams could clearly use a shortstop, which is Escobar’s natural position. The A’s and Rays simply need a shortstop, and the Yankees could use Escobar at short while shifting Derek Jeter, who is overcoming a broken ankle (and aging), elsewhere. Of course, with Alex Rodriguez undergoing hip surgery, and expected to miss upwards of half of next season, the Yankees could use Escobar all over the left side of the infield. (Buster Olney says, however, that the Yankees are not interested in Escobar.)

So, if teams looking for a shortstop are connected to Escobar, what are the Cubs doing there in that list? After all, Starlin Castro emerged last year as a better-than-average defensive shortstop. He’s not being moved any time soon.

Theo Epstein yesterday said that the Cubs may have to be creative to fill third base, including by potentially bringing in someone who hasn’t ever played a full season at third base. Could he have been referring to Escobar?

It’s certainly possible. Obviously the other possibility would be a Starlin Castro trade, which seems extremely unlikely (here’s where you freak out and say things about a larger deal involving Giancarlo Stanton and Castro, and I say things like, “nah, not likely”), or a Darwin Barney trade, with Escobar slotting in at second base. Again, that seems unlikely.

Third base is the much more likely answer. Indeed, the Marlins have already told Escobar that, with Adeiny Hechavarria in the fold, they plan to play Escobar at third base in 2013. But I’m not sure if that really puts the Cubs in any better position to acquire him. Escobar is obviously at his highest value when playing shortstop, and he’s been adequate there defensively for years now. The teams looking at him as their shortstop for the next three years – particularly cost-conscious teams like the A’s and Rays – would seem to be willing to offer much more in trade than would the Cubs. Because of Escobar’s uber-friendly contract, offering to “take on” all of his contract isn’t going to get the Cubs anywhere, because every team would be willing to take on that deal.

So, it would be a matter of the Cubs outbidding everyone else in prospects. And when they’re bidding on a third baseman, while other teams are bidding on a shortstop, it would seem that other teams – with better farm systems – could take the Cubs out. The cost on Escobar is likely to be high.

As for the merits of Escobar, he had a down year in 2012, hitting justĀ .253/.300/.344 (but that was driven largely by an unusually low .273 BABIP). Before that, he’d had an OPS+ over 100 in each of his five seasons except one, and over 112 in three of them. His WAR since 2007: 2.6, 3.6, 4.4, 2.0, 4.2, 1.8. His career OBP is .353. There’s a lot of upside and offensive value there.

Ah, but with Escobar, there’s that “other” stuff. He was suspended this year after writing a homophobic slur on his eye black, he had trouble staying on Bobby Cox’s good side in Atlanta, and reportedly had some teammate issues in the clubhouse while in Atlanta. There is unseen risk there, about which I’m totally ignorant to speculate. But it’s something the Cubs are undoubtedly considering.

We’ll see if this goes anywhere. Remember: this front office is smart enough to check in on everyone. That they reached to the Marlins about Escobar should be wholly unsurprising given his contract, his availability, and their need at third base. That doesn’t mean a trade is forthcoming.


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