CLEVELAND, Ohio — In what is widely being regarded as a precursor to further potential blockbuster trades, the Cleveland Indians on Thursday traded away designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion and infielder Yandy Diaz in a three-team deal that netted the club ex-Tribe slugger Carlos Santana and Tampa Bay prospect Jake Bauers.
The move was largely driven by the desire to shed Encarnacion’s $25 million salary and increase the team’s payroll flexibility. Now, if president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti and general manager Mike Chernoff find a trade partner to take Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer, they will not have to attach a veteran salary to the deal (such as Jason Kipnis’ $14.6 million) and can maximize the return for whichever coveted starter they send out.
But which team “won” the trade? Did Tampa get a sleeper in Diaz, who could blossom into a consistent bat for years to come? Or did Seattle pull a fast one, with GM Jerry DiPoto knowing he’s going to trade Encarnacion anyway?
Here’s a breakdown of the principal pieces in the deal:
Seattle gets Encarnacion, the 35-year-old slugger whose OPS and batting average each dropped by 10 points last season, but who still managed to hit at least 30 home runs and drive in 100 for the sixth time since 2012. The Mariners will probably end up flipping Encarnacion to a team such as Tampa Bay, but as it stands, they shed about $11 million in salary that they would have owed Santana. The Mariners also get Cleveland’s competitive balance draft pick (round B) which amounts to the 77th selection in the June draft.
Tampa Bay gets Diaz (and his biceps), along with minor leaguer Cole Sulser. Diaz is under club control until 2025 and last year posted a higher average exit velocity (minimum 90 balls in play) than Mike Trout and Manny Machado. In 265 at-bats for the Indians in the last two years, Diaz hit .283 with a .727 OPS. The potential is there for Diaz to grow into a solid middle-of-the-order bat for the Rays. “What Yandy showed in a small sample offensively, it’s something that we need to think through, because I think we all feel like he’s got a chance to be pretty special offensively,” manager Terry Francona said after the 2018 season ended. Sulser, meanwhile, turned in a 3.86 ERA in 47 appearances between Akron and Columbus last year. He struck out 95 batters in 60 2/3 innings.
Cleveland sees the return of Santana, 32, who played his first eight seasons with the Indians. His numbers across the board dropped off slightly during his one season in Philadelphia, with the exception of walks (110), which were the second-highest of his career. Santana’s OPS nosedived to .766, nearly 40 points off his career average. The Tribe also acquired 23-year-old lefty Jake Bauers, a top-five prospect from the Rays who was having a strong rookie season until about mid-August when opponents figured out how to attack him at the plate. Bauers finished with 11 homers and 48 RBI but hit just .201 with Tampa.