The 36-year-old slugging first baseman/designated hitter has a .241/.356/.531 slash line and 139 wRC+ this season. He has blasted at least 32 home runs every season since 2012, and is well on his way to continuing that streak.
It doesn’t matter that he’s an imperfect fit offensively. He becomes yet another right-handed slugger in a lineup presently featuring Gary Sánchez, Luke Voit, Clint Frazier, and Gleyber Torres. Within a week, big guns Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge will join them, as both are rehabbing in Triple-A.
It also doesn’t matter that he’s an imperfect fit defensively. He and Voit are positionally redundant. The Yankees already have an infield/DH quandary involving Gio Urshela at third base, Didi Gregorius at shortstop, DJ LeMahieu primarily at second base, and Torres playing both middle infield spots. This is further complicated when Stanton and Judge return, giving them three corner outfielders including Frazier.
It also also doesn’t matter that the Yankees’ biggest need is pitching. Their starters have a 6.22 ERA in June— third worst in MLB. Their 5.45 FIP and 4.76 xFIP are both fifth worst. This problem was exacerbated when they missed out on signing Dallas Keuchel by just $1-2 million, and then when Domingo Germán landed on the IL.
These things don’t matter because Encarnación has two more home runs than anyone else in the AL. If the Yankees are serious about contending (as they have every year since 1992), they simply cannot pass up the opportunity to add a premier slugger.
Besides, this trade does nothing to preclude them from acquiring a starter. Assuming the Keuchel offer of $12 million is their self-imposed spending limit, the team still has room to add a little more payroll. (That the Yankees have a spending limit at all is a different grotesquerie altogether...)
Encarnacion still owed more than $15M in salary and buyout. Source says #Yankees and #Mariners essentially splitting the money. SEA paid more to get better prospect - pitcher Juan Then, who should move into 15-20 range on SEA top prospects list. First with Then: @Joelsherman1.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) June 16, 2019
Assuming Rosenthal’s intel is accurate, the Yankees and Mariners will each pay about $7.5 million of Encarnación’s remaining salary obligations. That means New York can still take on about $4 million more to add a starting pitcher before the trade deadline.
As for Seattle, they’ve made no secret of their desire to rebuild. There’s no need for a 36-year-old slugger on a losing team, especially since he’s only controllable for one more year (a team option for $20 million with a $5 million buyout).
In return, they acquire Juan Then, a 19-year-old right-hander who has yet to pitch this season. He was actually originally signed by the Mariners as a teenage amateur out of the Dominican Republic, then traded to New York following the 2017 season for Nick Rumbelow. He’s currently listed as the 27th best prospect in the Yankees’ system by MLB Pipeline.
Much will be written and debated about how Encarnación is a bad fit for the Yankees. Sure, they’d have been better off with a left-handed hitter with more defensive versatility, if not a starting pitcher. However, the Yankees are undoubtedly a better team with Encarnación walking the parrot than without him. Such a prodigious slugger can never be a bad fit.
Daniel R. Epstein is an elementary special education teacher and president of the Somerset County Education Association. In addition to BtBS, he writes at www.OffTheBenchBaseball.com. Tweets @depstein1983