The Tampa Bay Rays picked up another key piece for the 2013 season late Tuesday when they acquired shortstop Yunel Escobar from the Miami Marlins for minor league infield prospect Derek Dietrich.
The 30-year-old Escobar was part of the 12-player trade last month between Toronto and Miami.
"Yunel is a quality major league shortstop. He's a good defender, and has occasional pop," Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said. "We feel like he really helps solidify our infield defense, which should be a real strength next year."
That infield defense includes first baseman James Loney, who agreed to a one-year deal Monday.
Friedman was able to fill two big holes in the 2013 roster this week at the Winter Meetings here without giving up a starting pitcher. The deal with the Marlins, though, did cost the organization one of its top prospects.
"It's never easy for us to trade prospects," Friedman said. "By definition they're more valuable to us than any team in baseball. But we're always trying to balance the short term and the long term, and trading Derek caused a lot of angst in that he has a chance to be a really good offensive second baseman that hits left-handed.
"(But) we felt like where our team was, the fit, everything else at the end of the day makes sense for us."
Escobar will make $5 million this season and has two options years at $5 million each, so he is under team control for three seasons. Friedman said that made parting with Dietrich a little easier.
"We wouldn't have given up someone with Derek's quality for a year of someone who fit us really well," Friedman said.
Dietrich was named the MVP of the Class A Charlotte Stone Crabs after hitting .282 with 10 home runs, 58 RBI and 21 doubles in 2012.
Escobar is a career .282 hitter, who batted .272 in his three years with the Blue Jays. He became expendable for Miami when he balked at the Marlins' desire to move him to third base.
The addition of Escobar now frees Ben Zobrist to return to his "Super U" role. Friedman said Zobrist will play second base, some shortstop as well as both right and left field.
"This allows us to deploy Zo in more effective ways and really utilize his versatility," Friedman said.
Also, having Zobrist available for more of an outfield role means Friedman can center his focus on acquiring a full-time designated hitter or, at the very least, reduce the importance of outfield play as he chases another bat.
Escobar does come with some baggage. Most recently, he was suspended for three games in September while with the Blue Jays for writing a homosexual slur on the eye-black he wore under his eyes. That seems to be an odd fit for the Rays, who value character in a player as much as defense.
"We did a lot of homework on Yunel, and we believe that he's going to fit in really well in our clubhouse," Friedman said. "It seems like he's extremely happy about being a Ray and he knows he's going to be welcomed into our clubhouse.
"I think it's safe to say we did a lot of work on it, talked to a lot of people and feel comfortable that it's a calculated risk on a good player that can help us and fit in really well in our environment."
Addressing the eye-black incident, Friedman said, "I think he definitely learned a lesson from (it). I think it had a real impact on him and that he feels remorse about it. And the digging that we did, we believe that it was an isolated incident and that nothing of that nature will be a concern going forward or we wouldn't have acquired him."