Alcides Escobar, who turned 35 last month, was playing at Triple-A in Kansas City’s system this past season when the Washington Nationals acquired the 11-year veteran and brought him back to the majors for the first time since 2018.
A World Series winner with the Royals back in 2015, Escobar played at Triple-A in the Chicago White Sox’ organization in ‘19, and spent the 2020 campaign in Japan, before returning to look for another opportunity in the majors in the U.S.
Escobar put up a .274/.311/.452 line with seven doubles and five home runs in 35 games and 133 PAs at Triple-A Omaha before the Nationals acquired him in early July and gave him the shot the infielder was after.
“Very excited and happy that the team was able to give me this opportunity to be a part of this team,” he said in a July 3rd Zoom call with reporters, “… and do anything I can possible to help them win and give them the most out of me to be able to do that and help them win in any way possible.”
An injury to Trea Turner and a need at short provided the opportunity.
“He’s [an 11]-year veteran, major league player, played in the postseason, played in the World Series, good glove, he’s been hitting the ball really well, so we thought he’d be a good fit,” Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez said once Escobar joined the club.
“Not only can he play shortstop, but he can also play different positions in the infield as well.”
The injury to Turner wasn’t a long-term one, but Escobar said he hoped he had something to offer even if the Nationals didn’t need him to play every day.
“I feel like from the bench I can definitely help motivate, hopefully keep the energy up, and I can play a little bit of second as well, and try to play on days when guys need some rest and maybe get in that way, but more than anything help motivate from the bench, this team, so that I can help them in that regard,” he explained.
The infielder had a .271/.340/.375 line in the month July, with five doubles, a triple, and a homer over a total of 23 games and 108 PAs, then Turner was dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the July 30th trade deadline, and Escobar played 52 games over the final two months, posting a .296/.340/.417 line with 16 doubles, another triple, and three more home runs in his first run in the majors in three years.
“I think just the experience that I’ve had has led me to perform the way I have so well. It’s been since 2018, and just the experience I’ve had and the work I’ve put in like I said earlier, has just helped me perform the way I have,” Escobar said early in his time in D.C.
The road back was not an easy one.
“It definitely was a little difficult,” Escobar said, “especially playing a full season in Japan. I never had that experience, but I did think it helped me grow, and I learned a lot from playing out there. It allowed me I think to get back to this point, it helped me get signed back with Kansas City, started at Triple-A, and I think I showed enough to where I was able to get the opportunity [from] the Nationals to come back and play at the big league level.”
With a couple of weeks left in the season, Escobar talked about what he accomplished with the Nationals.
“Ever since the first moment that I got to this team, I was willing to do anything it took to help the team win,” he said.
“Whether I was on the field or off the field, I was going to do anything I could to help the team win.
“And I’ve been working hard and giving the most out of me to do that and so far it’s been working out.”
He also embraced the role of mentor to young players like Luis García and Carter Kieboom, who played on either side of the veteran in the last weeks of the season, as they got a long look as part of the club’s reboot of the organization.
“My only job right now it to help the young guys,” Escobar said in August. “I know there’s a little more pressure on them to play every day, and I’m just here — like I said before to the press — I’m just here to help out any way I can, and right now I feel like I have to help them as much as possible.”
The way things were going for the Nationals, who lost 50 of 73 games in the second-half, it was important that veterans like Escobar provide an example how to continue to work as a professional regardless of the outcome at the end of the games.
“Especially right now with the team losing so much,” he said, “it’s something that — keep working hard and hopefully turn things around. Baseball is very difficult, and it’s one of those things you just got to keep working and basically motivate them, keep their heads up and motivate them to get past this.”
Escobar’s manager said late in the season that he appreciated what the veteran brought to the club.
“He’s such an unbelievable person to be around and the guy is always cheerful, he’s always excited to play. He loves to play,” Martinez said.
With his versatility defensively and success at the plate, the skipper said at the time, it would stand to reason that Escobar would be in the discussion for 2022.
“It will be a conversation we’ll definitely have at the end of the season about possibly bringing him back here,” he said.
“But I love — like I said — his attitude has been tremendous, and he’ll do anything, hit anywhere, do whatever you ask him to do.”
Two days after they played their final game of the 2021 campaign, the Nationals re-signed Escobar to what is reportedly a 1-year/$1M deal, bringing him back for another season.
“[Escobar] joined the Nationals on July 3rd,” the club noted in a press release on the new deal, “… and from that point through the end of the season, ranked [1st] on the club in doubles (21), [and] hits (92), and [2nd] batting average with runners in scoring position (.379).”
Escobar had also reached base in 18-straight games when the Nationals’ ‘21 season came to an end, with a .346/.393/.506 line in that stretch.