The Yankees in 2019 have been hit incredibly hard with the injury bug through the first half. They’ve spent most of the season without big names like Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, Didi Gregorius, Miguel Andujar, Brett Gardner and Aaron Hicks. Despite that, they’ve been one of the best teams in the major leagues with surprising showings from unheralded sources.
Last year’s September sensation Luke Voit is the team’s leading RBI man all season so far and is looking like he is the real deal. DJ LeMahieu is continuing to rake after leaving the friendly confines of Coors Field and is on pace for his best power and runs batted in season of his career to this point. And what can’t be said of a guy like Gio Urshela who at the age of 27 is already on his third team and has turned from being below replacement level to being somehow the most clutch hitter on the team.
With all of these unlikely contributors and with most of the injured calvary expected to come back, why would you make a move for an aging DH?
The most important priority for the Yankees right now is winning the AL East. The past two seasons they’ve gone through the wildcard game and although they’ve won both games, it isn’t a gamble they want to keep taking. In the AL East, it is currently a 3 team race with the Yankees and Rays separated by half a game and the Red Sox in hot pursuit of both of them.
Encarnacion is a major piece in dealing with both of these chasers. He leads the American League in home runs with 21 for the Seattle Mariners and he has a lot of history playing against both the Red Sox and Rays (as well as at Yankee Stadium) from his years spent as a Blue Jay.
During his time there, he hit 24 home runs against the Red Sox (which leads the league for career homers vs Boston currently) and also 24 against the Rays which means that 12% of his career home runs have come against the Yankees top 2 division rivals this year.
He also has hit 18 home runs at Yankee Stadium so far in his career so he knows how to blast them out of his new home field as well. Also, relying on surprising contributors to be the backbone of a team is incredibly risky because their contributions are a surprise and therefore not the norm for the players in question.
So now that I described why they went after his bat, why did they go after him knowing his fielding ability is as bad as it has ever been? I think the answer there is that he will be the everyday DH while the team works its way back into being healthy, and once they are healthy he will be the regular DH but he will be given a good amount of days off so that guys like Stanton or Sanchez can get a day off from fielding.
It’s also likely that this means the end of Brett Gardner being an everyday player for the Yankees as soon as the team gets healthy. He is the longest tenured Yankee and many see him as the unofficial captain of the team, but his ability at the plate is declining and the outfield is too crowded when healthy to keep giving him a spot.
Judge and Stanton are must play type of players and Aaron Hicks is the rangiest outfielder on the 25 man roster with probably the strongest arm and if he can get back to last year’s hitting form then he’s too valuable to sit as well. Then the Yankees have to worry about getting Clint Frazier enough at bats since he’s 4th on the team in RBIs right now and is hitting .285 while he is still learning to use his “legendary” bat speed.
I love Gardner for all that he has done for the team but it is getting to the point where father time is catching up to him and his best use on a championship caliber team is as a defensive replacement/5th outfielder.
Encarnacion may seem like a surplus kind of addition to a team that seemingly has bigger needs in their starting rotation, but he is an upgrade to just about any offense in the league. He has the advantage of knowing how to hit in his new home stadium and having a lot of experience against division rivals.
Is he the piece that puts the Yankees over the top as World Series favorites? Probably not, especially with how stacked the top of the American League is in 2019. What he is though is insurance and another big bat to think about for a pitcher who thinks they can take a breath after Judge and Stanton in the lineup.