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Jim Henneman's Notebook: Edwin Encarnacion Trade, Orioles Trade Chips And More

June 18, 2019
If you've visited this part of the PressBox library before you've already heard this lament, but given the continuing circumstances it's worth repeating (or at least that's one person's opinion).

Baseball should find a way to keep irrational ownership groups from buying their way out of their own mistakes.

The most recent example came last week when the Seattle Mariners threw in the towel on their "win now" plan for 2019 -- and paid the New York Yankees to take the contract of Edwin Encarnacion, who just happened to be leading the American League in home runs at the time. And this really has nothing to do with the Yankees, although they were trendsetters in this practice years ago.

The thought that the Yankees could come up with a player with the track record of Encarnacion for their 28th best prospect is kind of insane -- but that would be the case regardless of the team involved. This nonsense all started more than a generation ago, when the Texas Rangers decided the best way to get out from under a 10-year, $252 million contract with Alex Rodriguez was to subsidize his trade. It's been an ongoing practice ever since.

It seemed obscene at the time that the Yankees would get arguably the best player in the game and receive the equivalent of 40 percent of his salary as part of the deal. And the Yankees just happened to be the team only because the Boston Red Sox couldn't agree on what would have been the same financial deal.

Ever since the Rangers introduced the concept, it has become common practice for teams to pay off another just to be rid of the obligation. And it's not just the rich -- or in many cases, the stupid -- who benefit.

The Houston Astros almost certainly would not have won the 2017 World Series without Justin Verlander. And they wouldn't have made the deal for him without Detroit paying $8 million of Verlander's salary for each of the next two years -- a subsidy the Tigers were willing to pay because their ace was no longer part of their future.

The Encarnacion case is similar, but not identical, because his contract is up at the end of this year, but there's still a question if the Yankees would've made the deal without getting financial relief, which helped them stay under the luxury tax cap. 

And there's another interesting catch to this deal: The prospect the Mariners got, pitcher Juan Then, is the same one they traded for another pitcher, Nick Rumbelow, who was also part of the "win now" movement that fizzled in April -- and who has since been released.

More power (literally) to the Yankees, who got an established hitter who devours left-handed pitching (the Red Sox have three such starters) and has had great success in Fenway Park, for being able to swing this kind of deal. It's not like they were the only team willing to pull the trigger. It just seems that way to those who find it appalling that the team with the most money also gets "slugger subsistence." 

Somewhere along the way you'd think the owners would get the message, something along the lines of the "play me or trade me" refrain players used before free agency. Better still would be to adopt the adage "if you want to dance, pay the fiddler."

It should be as simple as that. If you want the player you take the contract. Period. End of discussion. 

*** 

There was a heavy contingent of scouts at Camden Yards during the Orioles' most recent home stand and, while the Red Sox always command attention from the wise men of that profession, much of it was directed at the home team.

The other 29 teams are like a lot of fans in Baltimore these days -- still trying to get a grip on the Orioles' revolving roster. And contrary to popular opinion, the player drawing the most attention is not Trey Mancini (more on that later).

Despite his horrendous start, the player attracting the most interest for potential trade talks is reliever Mychal Givens. The general consensus is that Givens is the most likely trade chip. The biggest mystery is how someone who can be overpowering with an upper 90s fastballs too often gets in trouble with off-speed pitches.

It happened again Sunday against the Red Sox when Given gave up a game-tying homer on a ninth-inning changeup before blowing 98 mph fastballs past the last two hitters of the inning.

***

Manny Machado is appealing the one-game suspension he received for his outburst against umpire Bill Welke last week.

Conspiracy theorists are already speculating if Manny would give the Orioles the ultimate slap in the face by dropping the appeal and sitting out one of the two games when the Orioles host the San Diego Padres next week.

***

You've probably never heard of Rangel Ravelo but he's easily the feel good story of the week, if not the year. After 10 years and 838 games in the minor leagues, he was promoted to the big leagues by the St. Louis Cardinals June 16.

"The best Father's Day present ever," said Ravelo, whose stay may not be very long but was certainly memorable. The reason he was promoted? Because new teammate Yairo Munez was about to become a father and his paternity leave created the opportunity. Special props to Mrs. Munez for great timing.

***

By now, everybody has an opinion on the defensive shifts that are dominating baseball, so I guess it's fair to pose a question. How come so many of the ground balls that get through for hits invariably go through the position formerly occupied by either the second baseman or shortstop?

While we're at it, bonus question: Do those foul balls that land along the third base line count?

*** 
 
It's just an off-the-cuff observation, but the Orioles appear to play for one run and defend against one run more often that you would expect from a team in their situation. It's particularly noticeable if any comparisons are made with successful teams in the past that relied on the long ball and defense.

It may even be a contributing factor in the Orioles' huge negative run differential, especially when it comes to playing the infield in on defense, but there is some rationale behind manager Brandon Hyde's strategy. On a team that projects to lose 110 games or more, Hyde obviously feels it is important to keep his young team involved, which means fighting the odds at times.

***

Here's an overdue shoutout for the University of Maryland's baseball team for a strong showing in the Big Ten tournament before being eliminated by a pair of losses to Michigan. As this was written the Wolverines were 2-0 and one win from the finals of the College World Series in Omaha.

Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com