I would give Kelvim Escobar a Rays chance
When the Tampa Bay Rays first showed their interest in checking out veteran reliever Kelvim Escobar who has been working out for a return to the Major League after a few seasons out of the game, I was mildly excited about the idea. He could be a great addition to the team as a veteran presence that is always a plus for a young Bullpen like the Rays. But for some odd reason, I have this reoccurring unsettling feeling in the pit of my stomach….. once again.
You know the type of odd stomach ailment I am talking about here. You do not have heartburn, or even a slight case of indigestion, but it doesn’t feel completely right to you. There are concerns not only in your mind, but a quick jolt of anxious energy within you that is sometimes a precursor to a bad decision.
Well, I am getting that feeling in connection with the Rays and Escobar right now. Maybe it is simply just a case of “Been there……Done that” in my mind that has been there before in decision concerning the Rays and veteran Bullpen help. The first time I had this stomach reaction was when the team announced they had signed Mr Gimp himself, Troy Percival two seasons ago.
I was mildly excited that we got an opportunity to have a potential Hall of Fame closer come to the Rays for a bargain basement price. And he came with the “Joe Maddon” seal of approval as a good fixture for the Rays Bullpen. But reality struck quick and hard in those two seasons as Percival received about $ 8.5 million from the team for about 4 months total worth of sweat.
And the Percival experience still gets me angry, so maybe I am a bit justified to have a moment of hesitation and feel leery to trust the old dogs right now. But I do remember some times of great judgment and positive results in the last few years when the team took a chance on a guy who had Major League potential, but had been hidden in the minor league system for several seasons.
The Rays took a huge chance signing the guy and he rose to the occasion to be one of the most productive members of the Rays over the last three seasons. He has also raised his level of play both on and off the field to receive Golden Gloves, a Silver Slugger, and his first All Star appearance in 2009. When the Rays first signed him, Rays Senior Director of Marketing Brian Killingsworth called me and I was excited about this signing from the get-go. Of course that player was Carlos Pena.
And again in the Spring of 2009, I was totally on board with the Rays taking a chance on Jason Isringhausen based on this same gut reaction I had with Pena that he still had some gasoline in his tank and fire in his belly to succeed at this level. And the added plus that Izzy could be the veteran leader that Percival never fully embraced with the Rays young Bullpen.
But an injury to Izzy during a Rays home, in front of the Rays faithful sidelined his Rays career for the rest of the season. And even after his Tommy John’s surgery, Isringhausen came back into the Rays clubhouse several times before the end of 2009 to boost up teammates and show his support for the team. And if Isringhausen were to come back fully loaded and hunting again in 2010, I would still welcome the Rays opening their arms and taking him into the team again. Percival………..not unless he plays for free.
But could it be the honest fact that signing an rehabbing older reliever can be as predictable as rolling the dice? Heck, I am a gambler by nature, but I also know my limitations. The chance that Escobar would come in and be the perfect set-up guy for the Rays is totally within reason, but the fact he has not played much in 2 seasons, Escobar still throws up a huge yellow caution light up into my line of vision.
But I have a good measure of faith in the Rays scouting department and maybe this could just be the perfect diamond in the rough scenario as the Pena signing. It is speculated that the next time Escobar throws in front of MLB scouts will be in front of live hitting, probably within the next few days in the Venezuelan Winter League. Venezuelan reporter Efrain Zavarce speculates the Escobar could throw as early as tonight in relief for a Venezuelan squad (As of 4:45 pm EST no teams has added him to their roster).
But again, this is a player who has again drawn the “Joe Maddon” seal of approval, and maybe that is what scares me the most. Not that Maddon is not a great judge of talent and can see the positives through his black rimmed glasses, but the Percival episode has given me caution when that seal is given out to players. Nothing personal Joe.
But if you look at Escobar’s past, a player who has won 101 games in his Major League career does have possibilities. And he did save 38 games for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2002, so he does have high pressure experience and could be a nice mentor to Rafael Soriano to talk to in the Rays Bullpen. But again, he missed the entire 2008 season after a right shoulder labrum tear, and only threw 5 innings for the Los Angeles Angels taking a loss in his only 2009 appearance.
But in 2007, Escobar did post a career high 18 wins with the Angels with 3 complete games. And in an odd note, he started his 200th career start against the Rays that season. maybe I will keep an open mind and wait for that games result before throwing the baby out with the bath water here. Escobar has thrown in 1,507 innings in his career and has amassed 1,310 strikeouts, both impressive numbers showing his consistency and his durability.
But the true fact that the Rays have gone 1-3 on their veteran projects in the last few years for the Rays Bullpen, with two straight swing and misses in regards to relievers. So if Escobar shows during his Venezuelan outings that he still possesses some wicked velocity and a consistent ball in the strike zone, then maybe he could take the Rays project record to the .500 mark. Because all I need to do is look towards the Rays First Base bag to see that sometimes taking a chance on a player is all the help he needs to again succeed in the Major Leagues.