Shortstop Yunel Escobar comes to Tampa Bay with a questionable reputation after stints with the Toronto Blue Jays and Atlanta Braves, but the Rays are confident he can shed his past and be a key piece of their current, and potentially future, teams.
"This guy could really be the linchpin to our success," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "To get a shortstop of that caliber is not easy to do. I think he's capable of being the All-Star shortstop. I think he's capable of a Gold Glove. I really do."
Escobar's issues extend beyond the controversial incident in Toronto last season, where he wrote an inappropriate anti-gay message on his eye-black and ended up suspended for three games. He has been known to make careless errors on the field and on the bases due to a lack of focus. He is known to be extremely cocky on the field, and there have been questions about his work habits and selfishness.
Even so, the Rays are confident that he can be successful with them, more comfortable in their relaxed environment and with a core of Hispanic players, such as former teammate and confidant Jose Molina.
Communication will be key.
"For me, it's about getting to know him and understand what makes him tick on a daily basis and have him understand the culture of the Rays and what we expect of him when he walks into the building," Maddon said. "I think there's definitely some common ground to be had.
"I'm really looking forward to this a lot, not a little bit. From what I've been told, among teammates it sounds great.
"I know what the perception is from the outside. There's probably going to be moments when I don't like something that he does, but I'm going to talk to him about it. It's going to be a wide-open situation, and he's going to know that when we do talk to him about something, we want to make him better and it's not going to be punitive, hopefully."