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Then Again - Mariners trade Edwin Encarnación to Yankees for RHP prospect Juan Then

The Mariners return a familiar prospect in exchange for their veteran slugger.

Houston Astros v Seattle Mariners Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

Many parrots outlive their caretakers, so it should come as no surprise that Edwin Encarnación and his silent passenger are moving on from the Mariners before the season’s end. The fact that EE even began the season in Seattle was surprising. He departs a fan favorite, hitting more homers (21) in his ~half a season than Justin Smoak did in any season in Seattle. Encarnación departs for the Evil Empire, bringing back a 19-year-old RHP who should feel right at home again.

For the Yankees, who maintain multiple DSL teams and have churned teenage fireballers out at record rates, the cost is bearable, and the privilege of acknowledging and addressing their baffling and embarrassing acquisition of Kendrys Morales is worth any price. Encarnación was the best bat on the market this year, thin as that market may have been. Returning a respectable pitching prospect for a 36-year-old slugger whose production had declined three years in a row prior to this season, then, is a palatable outcome. Considering Seattle is paying $7-8 million, Juan Then is the type of mid-level prospect in a decent system that fits the bill for the return. It’s not a slam dunk return, nor is it one meriting hand-wringing. It’s... about right.

Ever since the J.D. Martinez trade, we’ve seen how piddling the return has become for rental bats. Last year a rental of Manny Machado brought back a top-100 prospect in Yusniel Diaz, along with a Then-level pitching prospect, a lottery ticket infielder, a AAAA UTIL, and a low-minors reliever. That’s the absolute pinnacle of what a half-year rental can be, and EE, for all his power, is not the player Machado is. Between his age and his positional limitation, he’s not the sure bet Martinez was. For all of that and the financial reasons indicated in the tweets above, a single, respectable pitching prospect is what the Mariners could return.

With that formality addressed, it is nothing short of hilarious that the Mariners have once again acquired a former prospect now that they’ve about-faced towards a rebuild. Juan Then, you’ll recall, was part of the Nick Rumbelow trade. For JP Sears and Then, the Mariners received a reliever they saw immediate impact potential in. A year and a half later, and Rumbelow is a free agent, Sears is a decent starter in High-A, and Then, until today, was a 19-year-old ready for short-season ball fresh off a strong campaign in the Gulf Coast Rookie League.

Now Then is back - the 6’1 RHP bringing a 92-95 mph fastball and a curveball-changeup pairing that is more refined than many for pitchers his age. His reputation for command is commendable, and the velocity he’s showing now has grown with his strength, and may not be done yet. He’s generated groundballs well with his changeup in particular, and run just under a 4|1 K|BB as a pro. The knock on Then is his size, and that his repertoire may not pop quite enough to miss bats in the rotation going forward, but he’s 19 and been good - ranking as the Yankees 22nd prospect after 2018 by Baseball America and 31st by FanGraphs. Then fits as a mid-teens prospect for the Mariners most likely, fitting nicely into the group of fresh draft arrivals as a likely Everett rotation member. It’s not as though Seattle has a glut of pitching prospects all of a sudden, but with so many taken in the early rounds of the draft, Everett could be packed. Arkansas RHP Isaiah Campbell continues to dominate in the College World Series, so his innings count could cut short his pro debut and help free space for Then.