NASHVILLE — Capitalizing on Yunel Escobar’s best offensive season, the Nationals traded the veteran infielder to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in exchange for young, hard-throwing right-handed reliever Trevor Gott, according to people with direct knowledge of the situation. The Nationals dealt from a position of highest value and depth — Escobar was going to be one of four infielders for two middle infield spots — to the Angels, who have a surplus of young relievers.
The Nationals also received minor league right-handed pitcher Michael Brady, a 28-year-old who has reached Class AAA but finished in Class AA last season. The trade has not yet been officially announced by either team. (The trade was officially announced at 6:45 p.m.) The Nationals are also sending cash to the Angels, believed to be between $1-2 million.
Escobar, 33, hit .314 with nine home runs and a .375 on-base percentage during the 2015 season, and was the Nationals’ most consistent hitter behind Bryce Harper. He was originally asked to move from his long-time position of shortstop to second base in spring training, a difficult transition for Escobar that was cut short because of several injuries to Anthony Rendon.
Escobar, instead, played third base the rest of the season and his steady bat proved key. In his first season playing third base, Escobar held his own because of steady hands and a solid arm. But advanced metrics and some scouts rated his defense among the worst qualified third basemen in baseball. Escobar had a checkered past with other teams but there were few complaints about him in the Nationals clubhouse.
But going into the 2016 season, the Nationals faced a dilemma: what position would Escobar play? Rendon is moving back to his natural position of third base, meaning Escobar would have had to go through the process of learning second base again or moving back to shortstop.
Danny Espinosa is a superior defender at both positions, and hits for more power. Rookie Trea Turner may need more minor league seasoning but is viewed as a potential future shortstop, if not second baseman. The Nationals, who focused on adding left-handed bats to the roster this offseason, could still add another infielder — which is why Ben Zobrist, who turned down the Nationals’ overtures for the Chicago Cubs, would have been a fit.
The Nationals used Escobar’s strong season and affordable contract — he is owed $7 million in 2016 and has a $7 million team option for 2017 — to acquire a reliever for a bullpen that needed help. It is his fifth trade since the 2012 season.
Gott, 23, reached the majors for the first time in 2015 and posted a 3.02 ERA in 48 games. He struck out 27 and walked 16 in 47 2/3 innings. His fastball averaged 96.2 mph last season. The trade was first reported by CBS Sports.