The Toronto Blue Jays and Atlanta Braves have swapped shortstops, with Toronto getting underperforming Yunel Escobar in exchange for hot-hitting Alex Gonzalez and a pair of prospects.
Toronto also received left-hander Jo-Jo Reyes, who was immediately optioned to double-A, while sending minor-leaguers Tim Collins and Tyler Pastornicky to Atlanta.
Escobar, 27, emerged as one of the best-hitting young shortstops in baseball over the last two years before falling on hard times this season.
In 2009, he set career highs in home runs (14) and runs batted in (76) while hitting .299 with a sterling .377 on-base percentage. This year, he has yet to homer in 75 games and has just 12 extra-base hits. His batting average has dipped to .238 with a .334 OBP.
Despite his power outage, Escobar has at least maintained his discipline at the plate, accumulating more walks (37) than strikeouts (31).
"We feel that Yunel Escobar will absolutely turn it around," Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos said.
There's certainly an element of risk there, but we feel he has a very good opportunity to turn it around. I think if Yunel Escobar was doing what he did in the past, he's not available to us and this trade does not present itself."
Gonzalez, 33, proved to be a fine pickup for the Jays this season. Signed primarily for his glove, he has already smashed 17 homers and collected 50 RBIs — excellent production for someone on a one-year, $2.75-million US contract with a club option for slightly less money next year.
"He's an outstanding defensive shortstop and he's having a very good offensive season," Braves general manager Frank Wren said. "We think he can improve our run production. He immediately leads our team in home runs."
Wren added: "Getting a guy we can control for a year and a half was important to us."
The shortstop switch appears to fill needs for both teams. Atlanta, a World Series contender with a four-game lead atop the National League East, is looking for players who can help them win immediately. Anthopoulos, his club well out of the hunt in the AL East, has been trying to stockpile younger talent for the future.
Escobar is on a one-year, $435,000 US contract. He does not have enough big-league service time to be eligible for free agency at season's end.
The other guys
Reyes, 25, made just one appearance with the Braves this season, spending most of his time in triple-A. He's on his way to the Blue Jays' double-A affiliate in New Hampshire.
To make room for him on the 40-man roster, the Blue Jays designated righty Ronald Uviedo for assignment.
Neither Collins nor Pastornicky, both age 20, was considered to be among Toronto's best prospects.
Collins was pitching out of the bullpen for the Jays' double-A affiliate in New Hampshire. Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2007, he has a career record of 14-9 with a 2.40 earned-run average in the minors, sometimes attracting attention because of his small stature. Collins is listed at five-foot-seven and 155 pounds.
Pastornicky, a shortstop, was a fifth-round pick in 2008. He batted .258 with six homers in 77 games this season with single-A Dunedin.