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The state of the trade market for Edwin Encarnación

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Contenders have settled for cheaper, inferior options thus far. What, if anything, can the M’s get for their veteran slugger?

Seattle Mariners v Cleveland Indians Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

Yesterday the Yankees made a move to weaken their roster. They sent the Oakland Athletics cash in exchange for veteran DH/”1B” Kendrys Morales. Oakland themselves acquired Morales a month and a half ago from the Toronto Blue Jays for a low-minors infielder named Jesus Lopez and a small chunk of international free agent cap space. Both the Yankees and A’s came into 2019 with reasonable playoff aspirations and were facing injuries to their 1B and DH depth.

The only issue, of course, is that Kendrys Morales isn’t a good MLB player anymore. He hasn’t been for three years, posting a 98 wRC+, a .245/.317/.424 line, and -0.7 fWAR in 1205 PAs since the start of 2017. A month and change from his 36th birthday, Morales looks cooked, but his pint-sized price tag made him an easy plug for both Oakland and New York. The Blue Jays are paying $10 million of Morales’ $12 million salary this year, and New York will likely be paying only a portion of the remainder in their deal with Oakland. Given the choice between a pricier, quality option and cheap, replaceable mediocrity, teams have increasingly selected the latter, and that’s a clear obstacle for the Mariners efforts to trade Edwin Encarnación.

EE has been everything Seattle could’ve hoped for and then some this year. After a truly elite stretch from 2012-2015, Encarnación’s offense has declined each season, from a 136 wRC+ in to 2016 to 130 the following year, and just 115 in 2018. Half a year older than his former teammate Kendrys, Encarnación has rebounded all the same for a 127 wRC+ thus far, upping his walk rate and cutting his K% to its lowest point since 2015. Edwin’s resurgence has helped the M’s to some of the best 1B/DH production in the league.

MLB 1Bs & DHs bWAR

Rk 1B DH
Rk 1B DH
1 LAD 2.1 TBR 1.2
2 NYM 1.9 SEA 1.1
3 PIT 1.5 HOU 1.0
4 CHC 1.5 MIN 0.8
5 ATL 1.3 TEX 0.8
6 PHI 1.3 LAA 0.8
7 TBR 1.0 KCR 0.6
8 ARI 1.0 OAK 0.6
9 STL 0.9 BOS 0.4
10 SEA 0.9 CHW 0.3
11 MIN 0.7 PHI 0.1
12 CHW 0.6 PIT 0.1
13 TEX 0.6 SFG 0.1
14 SFG 0.6 MIL 0.1
15 CLE 0.6 ARI 0.1
16 BOS 0.4 ATL 0.1
17 DET 0.4 WSN 0.0
18 MIA 0.3 STL 0.0
19 HOU 0.2 CHC 0.0
20 SDP 0.2 CIN 0.0
21 NYY 0.1 SDP 0.0
22 CIN 0.1 DET 0.0
23 MIL 0.0 NYM 0.0
24 KCR -0.1 LAD 0.0
25 BAL -0.1 MIA 0.0
26 OAK -0.1 COL -0.1
27 TOR -0.1 CLE -0.2
28 WSN -0.1 BAL -0.2
29 LAA -0.1 TOR -0.2
30 COL -0.6 NYY -0.3
Sorted by 1B WAR Baseball Reference

In the table above we can get a decent sense of who is leading and who is lagging. The Dodgers, with a combo of Cody Bellinger and Max Muncy, are blitzing the league at the cold corner. The Rockies, meanwhile, are floundering thanks to a combo of a hurt/underperforming Daniel Murphy and under-qualified Ryan McMahon and Mark Reynolds. Unfortunately, while EE would be an upgrade at the 1B and/or DH positions of several teams, much of the league is uninterested in improving their roster for the 2019 season. Fortunately, despite being merely mediocre with the glove, the Parrot’s papa has accrued more innings at 1B this year than either of the past two seasons, looking passable enough for an NL club to bite.

It’s a bit early for buyers and sellers to make decisive moves, but both leagues have teams with great reasons to act early and boost their roster. In the AL, the haves and have-nots are stark, with six teams at over 60% odds of making the playoffs per FanGraphs and no others above 7.1% Meanwhile, only two teams in the NL are complete and utter toast, and an incremental upgrade would be significant. Blending playoff odds and positional production, who is the best fit for Edwin?

Bad 1B/DH Production & Playoff Odds/Intent

Team 1B DH Playoff Odds
Team 1B DH Playoff Odds
HOU 0.2 0.6 99.5%
NYY 0.1 -0.3 88.3%
CLE 0.6 -0.2 60.4%
MIL 0.0 N/A 44.2%
WSN -0.1 N/A 34.6%
COL -0.6 N/A 12.0%
LAA -0.1 0.8 7.1%
OAK -0.1 0.6 6.4%
CIN 0.1 N/A 4.7%
Sorted by playoff odds B-Ref and FanGraphs

We run the gamut here of shoo-ins like Houston to long shots like Cincinnati, but these nine clubs are the framework of the market. A few can be ruled out fairly comfortably with extra information, of course. In addition to their tenuous playoff odds, the Reds are set at 1B with Joey Votto, and will live or die with their star. Similarly, though Oakland’s odds of returning to the playoffs are cratering, their poor production at 1B is due to Matt Olson’s absence with injury, and Khris Davis has been decent. Moreover, while the Angels could certainly use better production from their 1B/DH position, Billy Eppler’s team appears uninterested in trying to win for the third straight season, and with Justin Bour headed to AAA in exchange for a LHH/LHP, Pujols ever-present, and Ohtani on the mend, there’s less of a fit than might be expected.

That leaves six teams - three AL, three NL. Briefly, let’s go through each team’s need or counterbalance.

Houston - The Astros wrapped up the AL West about three weeks ago, and even with José Altuve struggling their focus has to be on October already. To succeed then, they could use more than what they’re getting from Yuli Gurriel, who is once again the team’s weak link. Houston values his positional versatility, but Gurriel is less than a month from his 35th birthday and is a below-average hitter for a 1B. EE would fill the whole instantly, although they could choose to move internally and promote Yordan Alvarez instead.

New York - The Yankees now have Kendrys Morales, which I’ve made my feelings clear about. Luke Voit has been solid at 1B, but with the literal dozens of injuries they’ve suffered, the Yankees are running out of cupcake schedule to cushion against. With Miguel Andujar, Giancarlo Stanton, and Greg Bird sidelined indefinitely, the Yankees are the best fit for the Parrot in my appraisal. In spite of their injuries, their fortunate scheduling and dominant bullpen has helped them maintain great playoff odds, but the Rays’ emergence and Red Sox stumbles have made the gap between the division and the wild card as thin as a colorful imaginary feather.

Cleveland - Who doesn’t love a homecoming? It would be inarguably strange for the Mariners to return Encarnación to Cleveland after just a couple months, but the penny-pinching AL Central favorites are in danger of getting squeezed out of the playoffs by the pesky Twins. Much of that is due to an anemic offense that’s been getting little-to-nothing from Jake Bauers/Carlos González and the since-departed Hanley Ramírez at the DH spot. The club bet on Bauers and won’t want to cut bait entirely, but he can handle the field and still might need time in the minors - time Cleveland is quickly running out of if Minnesota keeps winning.

Milwaukee - Most of the Brewers entire infield has been a travesty at the plate, with Jesus Aguilar and Travis Shaw in particular stinking up the joint. Between the presence of Eric Thames and the recent call-up of Keston Hiura I’d be hard-pressed to see Milwaukee adding another power-first 1B, but with little time to waste they could pull the trigger and sort it out later.

Washington - Speaking of teams with no time to waste, the Nationals are struggling to prove their mettle in the post-Bryce era. Four teams in the NL East have 33.3% or better odds of making the playoffs, but the Nats are eight games out of first right now. Matt Adams and the ancient/injured Ryan Zimmerman have not been getting it done, and sticking recently acquired Gerardo Parra over there feels like true desperation. The Nats aren’t dead yet, but they need more from a lot of guys, and EE would make plenty of sense as an ignition spark.

Colorado - The team needing to squint the hardest for their playoff odds on this list is the group in most dire need of Encarnación’s services. Despite signing Daniel Murphy to play 1B for some reason, moving Ian Desmond to CF, Colorado shockingly has struggled to score runs this year! How weird is that? Murphy’s numbers have been woeful since his return from a wrist injury, and his replacements have fared no better. The Rockies need to turn things around ASAP to get back to the playoffs, and adding a big bopper would do wonders for them.

Any move the M’s make with Encarnación will be predicated on their willingness to eat most of his salary. They got $5 million in compensation when he arrived, balancing out his $5 million buyout for next season, but he’ll still be owed around $15-16 million more for the rest of his $21.667 million total he’s owed this season. The return won’t be sizable in any case - another low-level pitching prospect perhaps, but something like what Adam Lind cost a couple years ago would still be a useful return for the Mariners fledgling farm. However, teams have also proven more reticent to move much at all in exchange for what they view as marginal upgrades, especially when guys like Morales, Parra, and LoMo float in and out of availability every day. We may have to wait all the way until July to see where Edwin ends up, but we know Jerry can strike a deal at any time.