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Final Thoughts on the Edwin Encarnacion Trade

A few weeks ago, when the Yankees traded for Edwin Encarnacion, some Yankees fans wondered why a team with so much power and so little starting pitching decided to add another big slugger-and a right handed one at that. The answer to that is simple. The Yankees added Encarnacion because they could. The question of why the team didn’t go after pitching instead of another hitter is not entirely fair because the Encarnacion trade by no means precludes the team from acquiring a top starting pitcher in the near future. Moreover, if the Yankees could have traded Juan Then for Madison Bumgarner, Marcus Stroman or any of the other pitchers the team may be thinking about, it is almost certain they would have.

Encarnacion will likely help the Yankees because in the short term he is an upgrade for the role of slugging righty with limited defensive value from Clint Frazier. During his time with the Yankees in 2019, Frazier showed that he can be a valuable offensive player at the big league level, but for now Encarnacion is still the better hitter. While this is good news for the Yankees, the idea of the Yankees adding Encarnacion just as sluggers Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge are getting healthy was not something that has brought joy to fans of the other 29 teams.

The Yankees acquisition of Encarnacion will be read by many baseball fans as the Yankees throwing resources around to add yet another star, but this is not what happened. The Yankees traded a low level prospect and paid part of the salary, only about $7.5 million, so that they could add another impactful bat. The question this raises is not how the Yankees were able to do this, but why no other team offered more for Encarnacion. It is possible that no other contending team thought they needed one of the game’s better sluggers in exchange for a second tier prospect, but that seems unlikely.

Encarnacion is no longer quite the elite middle of the order impact slugger he was a few years ago, but he is still a valuable power hitter, particularly on a contending team where he is not expected to be the top run producer. The success of the Dodgers over the last two seasons, admittedly one that has not continued into the World Series, has demonstrated the need for depth, flexibility and a good bench. Encarnacion is not the kind of player who brings defensive flexibility, but he will provide the Yankees with additional depth while indirectly strengthening their bench. He could have played that role for several other teams as well.

The main reason the Yankees were able to land Encarnacion is because they want to win and understand that marginal improvements often lead to pennants. Other teams decided it was more important to save a little money while telling their fans they are out of the race. The Yankees are frequently derided as being bad for baseball because of how they spend money, but teams who pass up the opportunity to pick up a top slugger at a discounted price do much more to damage the competition, and indeed fun, of the game.

Because Encarnacion, at this point in his career, is primarily a designated hitter, it is understandable why National League teams might not have been interested in him, but there are many American League teams that would have benefited from adding Encarnacion. While the Twins and Astros, and to a lesser extent the Yankees, are in first place by significant, but not insurmountable margins, seven other teams are within five games of a wild card spot. That means that a total of ten teams are in the thick of the playoff drive. Some of those teams, like the Red Sox, may not have had much need for Encarnacion, but several of those teams decided it was not worth offering perhaps two mid-level prospects, to improve their chances and prevent the Yankees from getting even better. This is good news for Yankees fans, but is not good for baseball.

Many of these teams spent this last offseason convincing their fans they could not afford free agents and had to limit their payroll. Some did this while implicitly pointing the finger at teams like the Red Sox, but mostly the Yankees, for spending too much money. Baseball is better served when more teams employ a smart and competitive approach to the game as the Yankees do. The Yankee fan in me is glad to welcome Encarnacion to the Bronx, the baseball fan in me shakes his head in bewilderment at the teams that didn’t even try to get him.

Photo: cc/ Erik Dorst

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