Braves swap shortstops; Obtain Gonzalez, trade Escobar

The Braves have a new shortstop and, not so coincidentally, a new home run leader.

In a bolt from out of the blue, Atlanta acquired Alex Gonzalez in a five-player trade with Toronto on Wednesday that sent the erratic Yunel Escobar and left-handed starter-reliever Jo-Jo Reyes to the Blue Jays. The Braves also received two minor leaguers, left-handed pitcher Tim Collins and shortstop Tyler Pastornicky.

“We were looking at several ways to strengthen ourselves offensively without weaken ourselves at a position,” Braves general manager Frank Wren said of the move that has been in the works for several weeks. “ ... He’s an outstanding defensive shortstop. He has great hands. He’s a very dangerous hitter.”

Gonzalez, 33, is hitting .259 with 17 home runs and 50 RBIs. He is tied for fifth in the American League with 43 extra-base hits. Troy Glaus had been the Braves’ homer run leader with 14 and 58 RBIs.

Wren expects Gonzalez, who will wear No. 2, to be in the lineup Thursday when the Braves open the second half of the season at home against Milwaukee.

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“He is very excited to be on a first-place team,” Wren said.

In what can only be viewed as a dismissal, the move ends Escobar's 3-1/2-year stint in Atlanta. The enigmatic shortstop was hitting .238 with no home runs and 19 RBIs. His .284 slugging percentage was worst among National League regulars and his .334 on-base percentage was in the bottom five. A flashy defensive player, his 14 errors are tied for second most among major league shortstops. In the end he did not live up to the potential the Braves once saw in the 27-year-old.

Escobar has had past run-ins with the media and on several occasions has demonstrably objected on the field when charged with an error.

Wren would not say how those issues might have played into the trade but said “this makes our ball club better” and that he was “looking for the best fit for the ball club.” Wren described Escobar as “surprised and a little shocked” by the move. He is expected to join Toronto in Baltimore on Thursday.

The Braves have a $2.5-million club option for 2011 on Gonzalez, who is making $2.75 million this season. Wren was in the front office in Florida when Gonzalez made his major-league debut in 1998. He made the NL All-Star team one year later and was on the Marlins’ World Series championship team in 2003. He has also played for Boston and Cincinnati. He missed the 2008 season with a compression fracture in his left knee.

Over his 12 seasons, he has a .248 average with 131 home runs and 571 RBIs.

Wren said it would be the decision of manager Bobby Cox as to where Gonzalez would bat in the lineup. Gonzalez primarily hit seventh or second for Toronto.

“It’s a good problem to have to figure out where a productive hitter will bat in the lineup,” Wren said.

Both Collins and Pastornicky will report to Double-A Mississippi.

Collins, 20, had a 2.51 ERA with 73 strikeouts and 16 walks in 43 innings for Double-A New Hampshire. Opponents were hitting just .174 against him. Collins was a Florida State League Mid-Season All-Star in 2009.

Pastornicky, 20, was hitting .258 with six home runs, 35 RBIs and 34 stolen bases for Single-A Dunedin.

“Both have very good makeup,” Wren said.

Reyes appeared in just one game for the Braves this season. He worked 3 1/3 innings in an April game against San Diego, when he allowed nine earned runs. He was placed on the disabled list with a knee injury and later sent to Triple-A Gwinnett, where he was 1-5 with a 5.70 ERA in 47 1/3 innings.

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