For years, major-league teams lived with a June 15 trade deadline. Deals not made by that date could only be completed through the waiver wire.
Although the current deadline is July 31, Brian Cashman couldn’t wait six weeks to pull the trigger on a trade that brought the American League’s home run leader to the Yankees.
Late Saturday night, he landed Edwin Encarnación from the Seattle Mariners for fellow Dominican Juan Then, a 19-year-old Class A pitcher originally drafted by the M’s.
The Yankees see Encarnación as the second coming of David (Big Papi) Ortiz, a hulking slugger capable of producing big power in clutch situations. By pulling the trigger now, Cashman got a leg up on the Tampa Bay Rays, the biggest threat to the Yankees in the AL East so far this season, and the Houston Astros, whose home games in Minute Maid Park would have given Encarnacion a great home run target in left field.
Such trades can be made by clubs with money to burn – or with home run records to set.
The Yankees hit more home runs last year (267) than any other club in baseball history. But this year, with Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton out with injuries for much of the first half, the power output has been shrinking.
Enter Encarnación, a 36-year-old righthanded hitter with 401 career homers – a league-leading 21 of them this season for Seattle.
He’s a .263 lifetime hitter who’s a better DH than first baseman but Encarnación is a feared slugger strong enough to hit opposite-field homers over the short right-field porch at Yankee Stadium.
Money is no issue, since he has $9.25 million left on his $20 million 2019 contract and a $5 million buyout if the Yankees decide they don’t want to keep him. Seattle and the Yankees are splitting the cost for this year.
Encarnación’s resume is impressive. He’s hit a career-peak 42 homers in a season twice, made three All-Star teams, led the American League in runs batted in (127 in 2016 while with Toronto), and averaged 35 home runs per annum during his 15-year career. In addition to the Blue Jays, where he spent most of his time, he’s also played for the Reds, Indians, and Mariners.
Thanks to his arrival, coupled with the continued prolific power production of Gary Sanchez, the Yankees could become the first team in baseball history with four 40-homer men. But that might not happen before 2020, since Judge and Stanton have considerable catching up to do this summer.
Still, manager Aaron Boone has the luxury of playing mix & match not only with those sluggers but also with Aaron Hicks, Didi Gregorius, Luke Voit, and Gleyber Torres, and Brett Gardner, among others.
This is not the first time the Yankees plucked a plum off the Seattle roster. Last November, they traded three minor-leaguers to the Mariners for standout southpaw starter James Paxton.
Since the Yankees still need starting pitching help, the acquisition of Encarnación was a surprise — especially to such rivals as the Tampa Bay Rays, who have over-achieved despite the lowest payroll in the majors, and the Houston Astros, whose home games at Minute Maid Park would have allowed Encarnación to take aim at their hitter-friendly left-field wall. Both teams have designs on reaching the World Series.
The Boston Red Sox also could have used Encarnación , whose righthanded bat would have benefited from the proximity of the Green Monster in left field, but payroll limitations precluded that possibility.
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