Edwin Encarnación, the (regular season) hero we didn’t ask for [2019 Season Review]

Gleyber parroting Edwin’s signature home run trot.

The entire baseball world eagerly anticipated the Yankees landing another starting pitcher or two before the July 31st trade deadline. Instead, the Yankees didn’t bolster their rotation via trade. In fact, their only significant trade of the season didn’t involve a major league pitcher at all. Rather than minimizing a weakness, the Yankees added to its biggest strength: offense. Nobody knew that the Yankees actually needed Edwin Encarnación to overcome a staggering number of injuries.

Encarnación delivered pretty much what everyone expected post-acquisition. In all, he hit .249/.325/.531 (121 wRC+) with the Bombers and belted 13 dingers in 197 plate appearances. His postseason left a lot to be desired, but who knows how healthy he actually was in October. It certainly left many with a sour taste in their mouths, and understandably so, but EE was a boon to the offense for much of the summer.

The unexpected trade that paid dividends

To say the least, this trade came out of nowhere. The Yankees’ weren’t exactly yearning for offense, at least so it seemed. Sure, the Yankees were banged up, but no one foresaw the continuing injuries that would plague them throughout the entire season. Both Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton were within a week of returning, while Luke Voit (135 wRC+) and Clint Frazier (120 wRC+) were raking in the spots that EE could fill. Frazier wound up being the odd man out when Encarnación joined the team, much to a large swath of the fanbase’s chagrin.

As luck would have it, Edwin’s acquisition was fortuitous because an array of injuries were forthcoming. Stanton got hurt again, Voit went down in London, Aaron Hicks missed most of the second half, and Didi Gregorius struggled to regain his form. The Yankees needed EE more than they realized at the time of acquisition.

Encarnación got off to a slow start in pinstripes. His recorded a 48 wRC+ in his first 80 plate appearances and struck out in 28.8 percent of them. He did slug four homers, but he was basically an automatic out (.225 OBP).

Of course, a hitter of EE’s caliber can’t be held down for long. During a mid-July series in Tampa Bay, his fortunes turned around. From July 15th until August 3rd, when he fractured his wrist (more on that momentarily), Encarnación was a force at the dish. He hit .338/.427/.648 (179 wRC+) with 5 homers in 82 trips to the dish.

The breakout started with a huge game against the Rays on the 15th. The Yankees had a four game edge on Tampa Bay entering the game and in the 8th the score was even at 2. Up came EE to do this:

And out came the parrot. That dinger added 37.5 percent to the Yankees’ chances of winning, though Travis D’Arnaud erased that with a shocking 3-run homer against Aroldis Chapman later. In any event, it seemingly sparked EE’s torrid run.

Late summer injury bug

That hot streak was cut short, unfortunately. Encarnación took a Josh Smith pitch off the wrist and had to be removed:

Tests revealed a fractured wrist. Ugh. The Yankees suffered a myriad of injuries this year, and EE wasn’t allowed to be an exception, apparently. Remarkably, Edwin thought he’d be able to return in three to five weeks, which seemed very optimistic at the time. Turns out he was right. He rejoined the lineup on September 3rd against the Rangers and didn’t miss a beat: he went 2-for-4 with a dinger in a 10-1 Yankees blowout win.

But of course, that wasn’t the last injury Encarnación would suffer. Couldn’t be the 2019 Yankees without such an occurrence! Not that any injury is *good* timing, but the next one he suffered was certainly terrible timing. Not only was EE on a good run in September (153 wRC+ and 5 homers in 35 plate appearances), but the postseason was nearing.

It apparently happened when he started and stopped a swing against Detroit’s Matt Boyd. After walking, the Yankees took him out of the game. It was determined to be a strained oblique, and it ended his regular season. EE’s availability for the postseason also appeared in jeopardy, though the Yankees shed optimism about his return. Obviously, as we know now, he was able to make it back for the start of the ALDS.

Postseason woes

After Games 1 and 2 of the ALDS, I don’t think anyone expected Encarnación to collect just one hit the rest of the postseason. He doubled twice in Game 1 and notched two singles in Game 2. Surely, nobody was concerend about any lingering oblique issues after that.

He went 0-for-4 in Game 3, but no one cared at the time. The Yankees completed the sweep of the Twins and moved on to the ALCS.

But uh, Houston, we have a problem. EE was hitless in the first two games and struck out an astonishing six times. He did walk twice, at least. In Game 3, he doubled against Gerrit Cole (of all people), but didn’t reach base otherwise.

In Game 4, EE struggled again. Aside from another 0-for, he also made outs in big spots. Down 3-1 in the fifth with two outs against Ryan Pressly, he came up with the bases loaded but struck out to end the threat. Carlos Correa made it 6-1 in the bottom half of that inning and the game got away.

Aaron Boone benched Encarnación in favor of Stanton in Game 5, but EE returned to the lineup in Game 6. He went 0-for-3 with a walk and three strikeouts.

It was an ugly finish, no questions asked, but it’s fair to wonder how much his oblique may have been an issue. It didn’t seem like one at the start of the ALDS, but after what we saw against the Astros, it’s hard not to wonder. One of the decade’s best hitters looking completely overmatched was jarring, to say the least. That said, Brian Cashman believed he was completely healthy.

What’s next?

The Yankees have a team option on Encarnación’s 2020 season, which would pay him $20 million should they exercise it. EE is due a $5 million buyout if the team declines, though Seattle is on the hook for part of that amount as agreed upon in the trade.

I wouldn’t expect Encarnación back next season. With a crowded first base and designated hitter situation as it is, assuming everyone stays mostly healthy next year, he’s more of a luxury than a need.

EE turns 37 is January, but doesn’t seem near the end, so another American League team will surely find him plenty of time at DH. Despite his age and a couple of injuries, he recorded a 129 wRC+ and swatted 34 homers in under 500 trips to the dish. That’ll get him a job somewhere.

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3 Comments

  1. RetroRob

    No room at the inn for EE in 2020. My guess is he lands on one of the Sox — Red or White. If Martinez opts out, then I can see the Red Sox going after EE.

  2. DJ Lemeddardhieu

    I thought the Edwin trade was one of the biggest blunders of the 21st century, Derek, and one which we’ll be recovering from for a generation. The move was only made to keep him away from Tampa and had we let him go to Tampa we’d still be playing right now. And am I the only one that hates that stupid parrot thing? I think it’s the dumbest tradition in sports, right up there with the Iowa Wave.

    Edwin epitomizes what has been wrong with this organization’s philosophy for the past 20 years. They think if they can get enough of these big hairy monsters that hit 30 HRs a year in the summer against Oriole pitching that it will translate to October. It never does because the pitchers in October are far superior, the weather gets colder and as we found out this year that the ball was changed and regular season numbers were inflated. So we get to October and all these guys do is pop out and strike out and kill rally after rally. Meanwhile DJ, who Cashman didn’t even want, hits .320 all year including the postseason and Cashman is already on the phone with Adam Dunn looking to bring him in to be our clean up hitter next year.

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