Yankees fans weren’t the only ones floored by the Saturday night stunner that the club had traded for slugger Edwin Encarnacion. The Mariners’ first baseman and AL home run leader was, too.
Encarnacion was aware that Seattle was engaged in several trade discussions regarding him and that those dialogues were with contending teams. He just didn’t see something like this coming.
“I knew I was going to be traded, but I didn’t know what team. I didn’t expect to be traded to the Yankees,” Encarnacion said at a Yankee Stadium pre-game news conference Monday, shortly after the lineup was posted with him batting fifth as the designated hitter. “At the beginning it was a lot of other teams [that] they’ve been talking about it. It surprised me the first time they said the Yankees. I said ‘Oooh!’ – but at the same time I liked it.”
He also said, sometimes with the aid of an interpreter, that he is looking forward to playing home games at the Stadium and ultimately being part of a lineup with long-ball hitters Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. However, the biggest source of his excitement: “coming to a winning team, a team that’s on its way to make the playoffs. And that’s why we play: we play to win.”
Encarnacion has posted impressive results playing at the Stadium: an .840 OPS with 18 homers and 43 RBI in 69 career games and communicated there is something to it. “When you play here, you know, every game is packed,” he said. “So that’s maybe why I get a good sensation here.”
Encanacion got a warm ovation – many in the Stadium crowd stood to applaud – when he was introduced in the second inning for his first at-bat as a Yankee. His 10-pitch battle with Rays starter Yonny Chirinos ended in a strikeout. He led off in the Yanks’ fourth and lined out to shortstop. He grounded out to shortstop to end the bottom of the sixth and flew out to right in the bottom of the eighth.
Asked before the game about whether Encarnacion’s hitting style was a good match for the ballpark, Sanchez replied, through an interpreter, “He’s proven. He’s hit everywhere. Here or anywhere else, he has a lot of power and he’s going to [show it].”
Perhaps the most-discussed destination for Encarnacion in the lead up to the deal was Tampa Bay. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said that wasn’t “any factor at all” in the move.
“It had everything to do with just, ‘does this incremental situation make us better?’” Cashman explained. “The answer in my world was yes. . . . We felt it was a real impact bat – not an area of need, but an area that does upgrade us.”
The Encarnacion acquisition has other fringe benefits, too. It will allow manager Aaron Boone flexibility and the resources to keep top players well-rested and may free up for Cashman chips that could be used in a trade for starting pitching.
Encarnacion was teammates in Toronto with J.A. Happ – who spoke highly of him on the road in Chicago after news of the deal surfaced – and he is acquainted with a number of the Yankees. His first call on learning of his new destination, however, was Luis Severino.
“I know a couple of these guys. . . . But I reached out [to] Severino,” he said. “That was the first guy I talked to about it – and he was very excited.”
Manager Aaron Boone also admitted “I was really excited to write his name in [the lineup].”
Stanton will return from the IL on Tuesday and Judge likely during the four-game series with Houston at the end of this week.
Boone was asked about crafting a lineup that might have no rivals in baseball and replied: “Getting two more elite hitters, it has a chance to be a special lineup. But that’s all it is now. We’ve got to go out there and continue to perform but I am still excited about the possibilities of it.”