On Wednesday, July 14, Bastille Day, the Toronto Blue Jays destroyed their franchise.
Allow me to explain. The Jays traded their starting shortstop Alex Gonzalez, along with prospects Tim Collins and Tyler Pastornicky, to the Atlanta Braves for Cuban shortstop Yunel Escobar and pitcher Jo-Jo Reyes. On the surface, it looks like a good move by the Jays; they cashed in an aging rental player and a couple of B-prospects for a young player with a solid track record at a key defensive position. However, Escobar had fallen out of favour with the Braves because of his attitude and abrasive personality, and this factor will prove to be the undoing of Canada's only major league baseball team.
There's no doubt that Yunel Escobar is a clubhouse cancer. Just look at these testimonials:
"not an Atlanta Braves type of player" - a veteran Braves scout
"The guy is a clubhouse cancer." - kalmamd, forum.bodybuilding.com
"a club house cancer" - bigstack19
And if that weren't enough, picture those quotes in a rapid-fire video montage set to a foreboding yet driving soundtrack which crescendos as the lengths of the clips shorten, climaxing as the words Clubhouse Cancer are fiercely spoken directly into the camera, and hollowly fades out while the text rattles around the deteriorating, congealing images.
And thoroughly convincing. How can you not believe the guy is nothing short of a ticking time-bomb when so many individual opinions support that claim?
I'm sure I don't need to spell it out for you, but this is not a good thing. Let's follow the cancer analogy to its logical conclusion by examining what its three properties mean for the Toronto Blue Jays.
- Uncontrolled Growth - Yunel Escobar is listed by ESPN.com at 6'2" and 200 lbs., traditionally a good baseball body. He's lean and fast, but strong enough to drive the ball. Unfortunately, given his carcinogenic nature, his size will not level out as it does for most players. At first, the effects will be subtle. He'll lose a step on the base paths and in the field, but he may actually gain power at the plate, prompting coaches and scouts to disregard other negative effects. But just like cancer, Escobar's growth will become faster as time goes on, and soon he'll balloon to unbelievable proportions, necessitating custom-made gloves to fit his gargantuan hands, eventually followed by his own clubhouse adjacent to the stadium, until finally he won't be able to even fit in the Skydome on those chilly September nights when the roof is closed.
- Invasion - Invasion is the process by which the cancerous party deeply infects those parties closest to it. As a shortstop, Escobar will be exposed most frequently to the infielder on either side of him: Aaron Hill at second will be the first to go, while Edwin Encarnación and José Bautista, who share time at third for the Jays, will follow closely behind. It could be that by spring training next year, Hill, Bautista and Encarnación will have contracted the disease, and as early as one year from now could be showing early symptoms.
- Metastasis - Of course, Escobar's cancerous influence will not be limited to his immediate neighbours on the diamond. A somewhat dilute version of the disease will be passed to any teammate who plays catch, works out, or is involved in the same in-game play with Escobar, even if said play is a complex, multi-step sequence (i.e. a rundown). In most cases the metastasized cancer will manifest itself simply as a benign tumor, never to spread and affect the player in any way. However, the success rate of the disease is likely high enough that the few positive instances will cause a chain reaction that will destroy the entire team within 15 years. Of course, baseball teams have high turnover rates and new, cancer-free players will constantly be brought in to combat the affliction, but if Escobar is allowed even two years with the Blue Jays, it will be too late. Given that he has three and a half seasons remaining under team control, that seems all but certain to come to pass.
The Blue Jays may see immediate gains from this trade, since of the two major league shortstops moved, Escobar is younger, cheaper, and projected by most as the better player. But it's a short-term move by the Jays, and it's never a good idea for a major league franchise to turn a blind eye to the future. The Atlanta Braves, on the other hand, avoided that temptation, and chose to build for years to come by ridding themselves of a liability that likely would have ensured the destruction of their entire franchise.
Instead, that will be a fate only suffered by Toronto.