Edwin Encarnacion is 36 years old now, but age hasn’t stopped him from mashing baseballs. Among qualified American League hitters, he ranks 12th in wRC+ (139), leads the league in home runs (21), and is fourth in isolated power (.290). He’s accrued 1.7 WAR, which is pretty good at this point of the season, especially given his subpar defense. Of course, nobody is employing Encarnacion for his glove.
When Seattle acquired Encarnacion this past offseason, everybody knew he’d be traded sooner rather than later. The Mariners are in the midst of a rebuild and are reportedly “trying to trade everyone” before the July 31 deadline. Encarnacion, with his age and contract, was an obvious candidate to be moved.
It only took until the middle of June for the Mariners to find a suitor. The Yankees now employ Edwin Encarnacion.
- 1B/3B/DH Edwin Encarnacion (though it’s likely he’ll primarily be a DH)
- RHP Juan Then
Let’s touch on the Mariners’ return first before talking about the big parrot in the room. Juan Then was actually a Mariners farmhand two years ago. The Yankees acquired Then (and minor league hurler JP Sears) during the 2017-18 offseason in exchange for Nick Rumbelow.
Then is only 19 years old and he’s still in rookie ball. Prior to this season, Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel ranked Then as the No. 31 prospect in New York’s system, noting that he is “advanced for his age” but has “middling stuff and physical projection.” It’s worth noting that Then seems to have developed a better fastball in the Yankees system. But again, it’s awfully hard to project a 19-year-old who hasn’t reached full-season ball. We know he’s a young arm of some promise, but the delta in his potential outcomes is very wide.
As an interesting side note, reports suggest that the Mariners chose to deal Encarnacion to the Yankees because New York was willing to absorb more money than other interested clubs. By prioritizing salary flexibility, Seattle’s move is somewhat reminiscent of how the Marlins handled the Giancarlo Stanton trade, in which the Yankees gave up significantly less player value to bring in another slugger because they were able to take on big money. It’s not ideal for rebuilding teams to prioritize monetary value over player return on transactions, but it is what it is. Money is a big part of how organizations operate, and sometimes you’re going to see deals like that.
On the Yankees’ side, the thinking is pretty obvious: Encarnacion’s bat makes a powerful lineup even more powerful. It’s a straightforward “Good Team Gets Better” deal where New York gets an impact hitter in exchange for a volatile pitching prospect. The organization is also rich in young right-handed prospects, for what it’s worth. The Yankee brass won’t lose much sleep over trading away Juan Then.
With Aaron Judge and Stanton nearing their return, New York’s lineup is going to be formidable very soon:
C – Gary Sanchez
1B – Luke Voit
2B – Gleyber Torres
3B – DJ LeMahieu
SS – Didi Gregorius
LF – Stanton
CF – Aaron Hicks
RF – Judge
DH – Encarnacion
You probably don’t need me to tell you that this is a loaded lineup. It doesn’t even include Clint Frazier, who has posted 119 wRC+ and .230 ISO this season. Nor does it include Giovanny Urshela, who stepped into Miguel Andujar’s spot at third base and put up a 115 wRC+ (though it’s worth noting that his production has slipped quite a bit over the past month).
One could argue that the Yankees didn’t really need another power bat. At the moment, the Yankees biggest problem is pitching. Their starting pitchers have underachieved in June and they missed out on Dallas Keuchel by just a couple million dollars.
Still, there’s more than a month to go until the non-waiver trade deadline. Acquiring Encarnacion won’t prevent the Yankees from trading for a pitcher before July 31. The Yankees were able to solidify their lineup at a low cost and still have all the pieces they need to acquire pitching later.
As of this writing, the Yankees have produced a 106 wRC+ as a team, which is above average but not quite up to the Twins’ (123 wRC+) or Astros’ (121 wRC+) level. That figure will probably rise when Judge and Stanton return and, of course, when Encarnacion gets in the lineup.
The trade does increase speculation on Frazier, who was sent down to Triple-A to make room for Encarnacion. The Yankees have dangled Frazier in trade talks in the past. With his youth and potential, he does make for an attractive trade chip. Because of the demotion and lack of a starting spot, he does seem like a player New York could part with.
That said, the Yankees won’t be desperate to trade him away. Even though they sent him down, there are reasons for the Yankees to look at a bigger picture and hold on to him. Despite his defensive struggles, Frazier is a 24-year-old outfielder who has proven he can hit big league pitching. Also, if any team knows the value of positional depth, it’s the Yankees. They’ve had to rely on the likes of Cameron Maybin, Mike Tauchman, and Tyler Wade to fill in for injured starters. You can’t predict injuries, and Frazier will likely see action in the bigs again soon.
For Encarnacion, he gets to play for a contender aiming for a championship. He also gets to hit in a ballpark that is considerably kinder to right-handed power hitters than T-Mobile Park. He does have a $20 million club option for 2020, but it remains to be seen if it will be exercised. At the very least, he gets an opportunity to pad his power numbers at Yankee Stadium before possibly hitting free agency again. As for the Mariners, they get a long-term asset/project (or another future trade asset; you just don’t know with Dipoto, huh?) while reducing payroll. On paper, this trade should satisfy both parties.