TORONTO - General manager Alex Anthopoulos continues to reshape the Toronto Blue Jays' core - and more importantly, he's done so by signing a number of players to contracts that, at least on the surface, seem very team-friendly.
After inking Adam Lind, Ricky Romero and Jose Bautista to long-term deals in just over a calendar year, Anthopoulos rewarded shortstop Yunel Escobar with a multi-year contract as well.
Prior to Sunday afternoon's contest against the Cincinnati Reds, the Jays and Escobar agreed to a two-year, $10 million contract extension, with club options set at $5 million apiece for both the 2014 and 2015 seasons. The deal buys out his final two years of arbitration and the club options take care of his first two years of free-agency.
For the Jays' brass, locking up Escobar was an easy decision.
"We love Yunel, we think he's one of the most talented shortstops in the game," Anthopoulos said. "The exciting thing for us is this is a player that likes Toronto, wants to be in Toronto and we were able to come to terms on something that made sense for him and made sense for us."
Anthopoulos has to feel good about this deal, as he's the one who brought Escobar over last year in a midseason trade with the Atlanta Braves. The clubs swapped shortstops - among other pieces - with the Jays sending Alex Gonzalez to the Braves.
The move has paid dividends for Toronto. While Escobar was struggling both at the plate and internally within the Braves organization when the Jays acquired him, the move was never a gamble for a team looking to build around youth and high-upside players. Escobar fit the bill on both accounts and has quickly put his struggling start to the 2010 season with the Braves in distant memory.
The slick-fielding shortstop brings a little bit of everything to the team, from power to a strong arm, and a flare in his game not seen by many others on the club. That flare is reportedly something that didn't sit well with the Braves and after failing to hit a home run with a .238 average over his first 75 games last season it was enough for the Braves to change directions. At 27 years old at the time of the trade, it was the perfect player for the Jays to pounce on.
"They welcomed me with open arms and I'm happy to be here," Escobar said. "This is the first time I've had a multi-year offer and I'm happy to see that coming from the organization, knowing they're counting on me to be here for awhile."
Since arriving in Toronto, Escobar has hit .278 with 12 home runs, 42 RBIs and 74 runs scored over 127 games.
Escobar might not be an elite option at shortstop, but he is quickly establishing himself as part of the next tier.
Among all shortstops in baseball, the Cuban ranks in the top five in runs scored (42), on-base percentage (.357) and on-base plus slugging percentage (.785), and is one of just nine hitting .280 or above.
Escobar is in his prime and there's no reason why he can't produce like he did in his career year of 2009. In just his third year in the majors, Escobar set career highs in nearly every offensive category, including hitting 14 home runs, driving in 76 and scoring 89 runs before regressing in 2010.
By the looks of it, this deal is a steal for the Blue Jays as they have Escobar signed to a very affordable contract. And if things haven't panned out the way the Jays were anticipating come the 2014 season, the team can simply decline his options. It also should be around the same time shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria - one of the team's top-prospects - is major-league ready.
Perhaps one of them becomes trade bait by that time, and, if not, having two shortstops of that caliber at the major league level is a problem a lot of teams would like to have.
Either way, the identity of this team becomes clearer by the day and it starts with the man at the top. And that's something a lot of fans in Toronto can live with.