The Yankees officially declined Edwin Encarnacion’s $20 million option year for 2020, electing instead to pay him a $5 million buyout. This means that Encarnacion is another member of the free agent pool, welcome to sign wherever he pleases. Though the Yankees didn’t have any interest in bringing Encarnacion back at his original contract’s salary, and likely wouldn’t have even if he somehow earned World Series MVP honors in an electric postseason performance, that doesn’t mean that his time in pinstripes is over just yet.
New York is under no restrictions from signing Encarnacion to come back on a cheaper deal, and it’s worth entertaining the idea of what Encarnacion could be worth to the team in a full season with the squad.
Technically listed as a first baseman and designated hitter, Encarnacion is almost assuredly going to be signed by someone to be a primary DH. This inherently limits his market to American League teams only, and of the playoff-caliber teams only a select few like the Rays would be looking to add a bat like his to their lineup. This means that there shouldn’t be any sort of bidding war, and the price tag should be low enough to justify interest from Brian Cashman and company, even though it isn’t an area of need similar to how the front office went for the trade that brought Encarnacion to New York in the first place.
Looking at the Yankees internal options for their lineup next season, it’s definitely possible to envision a scenario where having Encarnacion around could be beneficial. The outfield is already hampered by Aaron Hicks’ Tommy John surgery, meaning that a re-signing of Brett Gardner to cover center field for the first half is probable. That opens the door for Giancarlo Stanton to remain in left field primarily, removing the need to stick him into the DH slot.
The only other complication comes from the uncertainty of Miguel Andujar. When Andujar was a regular in the lineup in 2018 he mashed at the plate, while struggling mightily on defense. That could easily justify a return in the DH role to ease him back to the majors, but Andujar could have value on the market if he’s still considered viable as a third baseman. The Yankees decision on where Andujar and Gio Urshela play and whether either gets moved shouldn’t be determined by the availability of Encarnacion, but he could be the go-to option if they do make a roster change.
If those scenarios turn in his favor and it comes down to a question of production, Encarnacion showed that he still has plenty of pop in his bat. Encarnacion recorded his eighth consecutive season of 30 or more home runs in 2019, and his slash line was still in line with his career norms. He struggled mightily against the Astros in the ALCS but was a key contributor in the ALDS sweep of the Twins, showing the randomness of picking apart postseason sample sizes. He’s worth attempting to bring back at the right price, especially considering how valuable depth wound up being for the Yankees.