The Toronto Blue Jays flip a tradeable asset coming off a surprisingly (and perhaps unsustainably) strong first half for a player who's not likely to be around the next time they're contending. Yunel Escobar is a better player than he's shown so far in 2010, and players in their late 20s who have sudden regression years like this usually go back to what they were in the past unless there's some underlying, chronic injury; but the the signs of decline in Escobar aren't limited to his bat, as his body has started to age poorly and he's become a well below-average runner, both of which point to questions about how long his defense at short will remain above average.
And Escobar's offensive value is almost entirely tied up in his batting average, as he's not exceptionally patient (he ranked 72nd of 86 qualified NL hitters in P/PA) and doesn't hit for power. He's also acquired something of a reputation for a subpar work ethic, and I don't think he's ever played up to the tools he showed in the minors after the Braves signed him, all of which seems to have led Bobby Cox to want him out. (Of course, we could also talk about how Atlanta has had its share of toolsy young hitters get to the big leagues and make absolutely no progress under hitting coach Terry Pendleton.)
The Jays do get three years of control of Escobar, and it's a great idea to buy low, especially if they feel that he'll get back to where he was in 2008-09, when he was a much better and more valuable player overall than Gonzalez is ever going to be again.
My question is whether that possibility, with the risk that Escobar's makeup is going to limit his bounceback -- combined with a timeframe (through 2013) that probably doesn't coincide with Toronto's next run of contention -- justifies giving up two of the top fifteen or so prospects in the system. They also acquired Jo-Jo Reyes, a lefty with no above-average pitch and a little over a season's worth of awful performance in the easy league; he's pitching depth in AAA unless he picks up velocity or markedly improves his command.
I like the minor league portion of the deal for Atlanta more than the major league portion. Escobar has been terrible this year at the plate, but still has an OBP (granted, in the easier league) forty points above Gonzalez's equivalent, and the latter benefited from the homer-friendly Rogers Centre. Gonzalez is roughly Escobar's equal in the field and is less erratic, but I'd probably still roll the dice on Escobar's bat for the rest of the year, especially given Gonzalez' long track record of OBPs at or below .300; even the change in leagues isn't going to make him anything less than a prodigious maker of outs, although his consistency will likely placate the manager.
What makes this a solid deal for Atlanta is the inclusion of two interesting second-tier prospects who will have value to the club in the short term or as fodder for more deals in what is clearly a "win one for Bobby" campaign. Tim Collins is a Keith Law-sized left-hander who has dominated at every level where he's pitched, including AA this year; he has great feel, a solid-average fastball and changeup with an above-average 12-to-6 curveball, but unless he improves the breaking ball or continues to improve his walk rate, he's probably more of a setup guy than a potential closer. That's still a valuable asset while he makes the minimum salary, and I think if the Jays had held on to him and used him in the majors for a year or so, he would have assuaged some of the (overblown) concerns about his height.
Shortstop Tyler Pastornicky he wins raves for his makeup and effort level as a "grinder" and -- dare I say it -- "scrappy" player, but more importantly, he's an above-average runner who can play a solid shortstop (despite a fringy arm) and controls the strike zone, a combination that should give him the floor of a solid utility player.
He came into this season with two career homers in over 700 PA, but already has six in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League, and he's young for high-A, playing the entire season at 20. I don't think he develops into a star or more than an everyday player, but the presence of some tools (speed and glove) and the fact that he's improved his performance while moving up into a league where he's young for the level are both promising, but his weakest tool is probably his hitting tool, and that's going to have to improve substantially for him to become a regular.