OAKLAND, Calif. – A sore lower back supposedly kept Edwin Encarnacion out of the lineup the past three games. And now, the Mariners’ best hitter will never make another appearance in it again.
After MLB sources confirmed pregame reports, the Mariners officially announced that Encarnacion, the American League leader with 21 home runs, had been traded to the Yankees after Seattle’s 11-2 loss to the A’s. The Mariners will receive young right-hander Juan Then in return for Encarnacion while the Yankees will pick up somewhere between $8.5 to $10 million of the cash owed to Encarnacion.
“I knew there was something in the works here the last 24 hours, but you never know,” manager Scott Servais said. “There are a lot of things in the works that never happen. But just right before game time I was made aware that Edwin was not going to be on the scorecard tonight and we were going to move him.”
If the name – Juan Then — sounds familiar, it’s because it was recently mentioned when the Mariners released reliever Nick Rumbelow.
Seattle acquired Rumbelow from the Yankees on November 18, 2017, in exchange for Then and right-hander J.P. Sears. At the time, Then was a 17-year-old who had just completed his first season in the Dominican Summer League. Last season, he pitched for the Yankees’ rookie affiliate in Florida, posting a 0-3 record and 2.70 earned-run average in 11 starts. He struck out 42 batters and walked 11 in 50 innings.
“Juan is a great kid and his stuff has really jumped, velocity and breaking ball, we really like it,” Servais said. “He has chance to be a starter. He’s a young pitcher that kind of fits in the mix of guys we just drafted. It’s a nice arm to bring back.”
General manager Jerry Dipoto isn’t with the team in Oakland and is attending his son’s college graduation in San Diego. But he did trade for Encarnacion while in a Las Vegas hospital during the winter meetings.
The Mariners acquired Encarnacion this offseason with no intention of keeping him for the full season and flipping him for a prospect or two. They intended to make the trade before spring training started, but the market for Encarnacion never materialized after Nelson Cruz spurned the Astros and Rays and signed with the Twins. Neither Houston nor Tampa seemed interested in acquiring Encarnacion mainly due to his contract. He was owed $20 million for this season with a $5 million buyout for a $20 million option in 2020.
Less than thrilled about having to start the season with Seattle, Encarnacion didn’t allow it to affect his play on the field. He played in 65 games, posting a .241/.356/.531 slash line with seven doubles, 21 homers and 49 runs batted in. He showed he wasn’t strictly limited to designated hitter, playing 45 games at first base and proving to be a still adequate defensive player.
“Edwin did great things for us,” Servais said. “I really think a lot of him and how he went about his business here, knowing that this could probably happen. It’s hard to go out and produce the way he did. He did everything we could ask of him. He’s been awesome in our clubhouse. We wish him the best.”
The Yankees will have a lineup that now features Encarnacion along with Luke Voit, Gary Sanchez, Gleyber Torres, Didi Gregorius and will soon add Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton.
A quick look at the evolution of this process for the Mariners would be logical.
On Dec. 3, 2018, they traded shortstop Jean Segura and relievers Juan Nicasio and James Pazos to the Phillies in exchange for shortstop J.P. Crawford and first baseman/designated hitter Carlos Santana. They paid $1 million to Segura to waive his no-trade clause, but the Phillies assumed the remaining $61 million owed on his contract and also picked up the $9 million owed to Nicasio. After starting the season in Class AAA Tacoma to control his service time, Crawford is now the Mariners’ everyday starting shortstop. Santana was part of the deal to even out the money. He was owed $17 million in 2019 and $17.5 million in 2020. But the Mariners planned on trading him before he ever put on a Seattle uniform.
That happened while Dipoto was in a Las Vegas hospital bed during the MLB winter meetings. A blood clot in his lungs forced him to the hospital, but he was still able to finalize a three-team trade that sent Santana to the Cleveland Indians. The Mariners acquired Encarnacion and a competitive-balance round B pick in 2019 draft. Seattle selected talented right-handed pitcher Isaiah Campbell out of the University of Arkansas with the pick. The Mariners also received $5 million in cash from the Indians and sent $6 million to the Rays, which is paid out over two years.
So essentially through all the deals, the Mariners acquired Crawford, Then and Campbell while ridding themselves of Segura’s future earnings and presence beyond this season.
“We’ve gotten a lot of young prospects back, unfortunately they are not all here yet,” Servais said of the stepback/rebuild. “It’s our job here to take the guys we’ve got and get the most out of them and get them to improve.”