The Miami Marlins successfully traded Yunel Escobar only a few weeks after acquiring him from the Toronto Blue Jays in the mega-trade involving both teams. Not only did the organization decide to deal Escobar, but the team felt it was their primary objective in the winter meetings, according to what Larry Beinfest told Joe Capozzi of the Palm Beach Post and other reporters.
Now, this comes as news to us, as previously the Marlins had spoken to Escobar and he was on board with moving to third base. There was still speculation that the Marlins would trade him anyway, but it seemed that speculation was not high until the winter meetings began and the grumblings about a trade became louder. Now we are aware of the reason why the grumblings were so loud.
This unfortunately changes the dynamic of the Marlins' offseason. Even though the Marlins may have still considered dealing Escobar, his balking at playing third base in 2013 represented a potential problem for the team. In 2012, the Marlins had a similar situation with Hanley Ramirez potentially not wanting to move to third base. I said that year that the Fish held all of the right arguments and all of the power when it came to Ramirez.
That is how Ramirez will likely feel once he agrees to move positions for the Marlins. Not only is it in the best interest for the Marlins to have Ramirez move positions rather than be traded, but the club has no reason to be pressured by a Ramirez trade demand. The team holds all the leverage over a player who refuses to play while under contract, so the Marlins would have all the power in this regard. And again, while going all the way with the threat of a disqualified list move would be disastrous from a public relations standpoint, it is unlikely that Ramirez would even contemplate going an entire season without receiving pay. In this particular case, his hands are ultimately tied, which is why the Marlins would ultimately not trade Ramirez because of this particular problem.
How is Escobar's situation different? For the Marlins, there is far less at stake in Escobar's case than there is in Ramirez's. With the 2013 season already lost, there is no reason to run into further problems with a player with potentially only one season left to play with the Fish. In Ramirez's case, the Marlins had few other options left to them in terms of filling the third base position to the degree they wanted. The team's entire offseason plan was based on eventually making this position switch, especially since Ramirez was already well on the decline at shortstop anyway. For the team, it was either get Ramirez to play third base or receive inferior talent and risk losing out on a competitive 2012 year. Given the leverage the team had, it was easy to see why they would rather convince Ramirez, especially since he had a long history with the team.
With Escobar, the Marlins were likely a lot less inclined to get into a fight over moving to third base. Escobar still had no power over the situation, so eventually he also would have had to make the move. But if he became an issue, the Marlins really had no reason to put up a fight with 2013 not on the line. In this case, the alternative was to simply trade him as a shortstop and go in another direction, as the difference in talent level between Escobar and another option would not have been the difference between contention and missing the playoffs.
In light of this news, I can understand the Marlins wanting to make a trade instead of dealing with Escobar, who also has known character issues. Rather than risking further problems, the team went the safe route and dealt him before the issue escalated. The only problem now is that the team needs to find a replacement at the position because the Marlins are bereft of talent at third base. The team's options are weak, but if they can find a cost-controlled player for whom to trade rather than signing a short-term option like Jack Hannahan, the team may come out better than initially expected.
The Escobar trade makes a lot more sense now with the information that he was less interested in playing third base than initially expected. It still does not excuse the relatively meager return on the trade, nor does it make the future third base situation any better, but at least the Marlins had a reason to make the move outside of cutting further salary, which is what the team appeared to be doing at first.