Whither Encarnacion?

2019-06-16 EdwinEncarnacion

Edwin Encarnacion, AL home run leader, due to arrive at Stadium Elsewhere Monday after a surprise trade . . .

Once upon a time, Edwin Encarnacion exposed a former Yankee manager as a shortsighted strategist. Now he’ll get to help reveal how clever the incumbent Yankee manager is as a juggler. Or, how clever the Yankee front office is at trade maneuvering.

As a Blue Jay, Encarnacion laid waste to then-Orioles manager Buck Showalter’s insistence, in the 2016 American League wild card game, that his then-stud closer Zach Britton had no business appearing any time other than the last inning with a lead to protect.

Not even if Ubaldo Jimenez—normally a starter who’d pitched very well down the stretch but who wasn’t the reliever who’d allowed only four earned runs all year, all of which scored in April—really was the best Blue Jays arm in that period. (And he wasn’t, quite.)

Showalter ignored the law that says when you need a stopper right now, you forget his customary assignment and bring him in if you want to live to play another inning, if not another postseason game. Encarnacion took Showalter’s ignorance plus Jimenez’s sudden inability to throw a potential double play pitch and turned a fastball down the pipe into the three-run homer that sent Rogers Centre nuclear and the Blue Jays to play another few postseason days.

Encarnacion went from there to a pair of somewhat productive seasons with the Indians in which he kept hitting the long ball but nothing much else; he has a cumulative 4.7 wins above replacement level for those two seasons, which averages him out to 2.4. Which is, according to Baseball Reference, just good enough to be in the starting lineup but not exactly even All-Star level.

But he could still do the monster mash after he went to the Mariners in a three-way December deal that made an Indian out of Jake Bauers (who belied his anemic bat and hit for the cycle during the week), a Ray out of Yandy Diaz, and a prodigal Indian of Carlos Santana. The Mariners have gone into the sewage treatment plant after that staggering 13-2 start and they’re all but pushing the plunger on the season.

They unloaded Jay Bruce, the traveling man, to the Phillies last week. Bruce has begun his Philadelphia life as a productive masher, so far. Now they’ve sent Encarnacion to the Yankees, and even those who love this year’s Empire Emeritus‘s ability to make their injuries seem like momentary disruptions to their power plant seem scratching their heads over this one.

Wasn’t the Yankees’ number one need right now a little reinforcement to their starting pitching? Shouldn’t they have been pondering what it would take to pry someone like Madison Bumgarner from the Giants, maybe Noah Syndergaard from the Mets, possibly Max Scherzer from the Nationals? (Never mind that their supremo Mike Rizzo insists he has no intention of letting Scherzer loose?)

Didn’t they still have thunder in the lumber with every current regular save Brett Gardner showing a 113+ or better OPS? And weren’t Aaron Judge (strained oblique) and Giancarlo Stanton (leg and shoulder trouble) due to finish their rehab assignments and return to Stadium Elsewhere beginning some time next weekend?

Isn’t Judge the regular right fielder when he isn’t injured? Hasn’t Luke (Into the) Voit put a vise grip on the first base job? Don’t Gardner, Aaron Hicks, and Clint Frazier have the outfield well enough set, with Gardner and Stanton rotating in and out between that and designated hitting when the need arises? And doesn’t Aaron Boone have enough in his hands trying to juggle Gleyber Torres, D.J. LaMahieu, Didi Gregorius, and Gio Urshela into infield playing time?

Sports Illustrated‘s Jon Tayler has one resolution floating before him:

The likeliest outcome post-Encarnacion is that he and Voit juggle first and DH between them, Judge takes over right, Stanton becomes the starting leftfielder, Gardner hits the bench and Frazier is either sent down to Triple A or traded to address the Yankees’ biggest extant issue: starting pitching. It’s an unfair outcome for Frazier, who’s hit well (.291/.340/.533 and a 128 OPS+), but as the only one of that group left with options, he’s the easy choice to be the odd man out, especially given his struggles with the glove. And as a 24-year-old with a first-round pedigree, he’s now a lock to show up in every Yankees trade rumor between now and July 31.*

Tayler also fears veteran Cameron Maybin may be seeing his last days in Yankee pinstripes when he was just getting used to wearing them: an April pickup when the injuries began to buffet the Yankees, Maybin may be a productive part-timer “but [he’s] a definite goner now.”

In other words, you might think, the Yankees needed the American League’s home run leader so far this season about as much as the Democratic Party needs yet another candidate jumping into the coming presidential contest. The Democrats may have an easier time winnowing out the excess players sooner than the Yankees may have integrating them.

Of course, there’s always the chance that there might be a madness to the Yankee method. The Empire Emeritus might (underline that) be building a stockpile for a little trade deadline season maneuvering that won’t cost them anything too much in the way of delicious farm prospects. Bumgarner, Syndergaard, and even Scherzer should still keep an eye on their cell phones. Their GMs may yet come a-calling with news out of New York.

* It turns out that Jon Tayler was right about the Clint Frazier option: the Yankees sent him to Wilkes-Barre (AAA) Sunday. The Yankees were diplomatic about it, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if they believed that, no matter Frazier’s bat, his defense (a second-worst-in-Show -10 defensive runs saved) can use the work in hand with keeping him playing instead of being caught in the Yankee logjam. Let’s keep an eye on where Frazier, a talented player otherwise, does or doesn’t go from here.

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