The Rays have had trade discussions with the Indians about first baseman/DH Edwin Encarnacion and infielder Yandy Diaz, Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports (two links). It isn’t clear if these talks extended beyond anything but due diligence, and Hoynes said that if such a deal is explored, it might come as a second step after other offseason moves for the Tribe. To wit, the Indians would likely have to first deal Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer to free up enough money on the books so the club could potentially eat some of Encarnacion’s salary to facilitate a deal with Tampa Bay.
It would certainly be eye-opening to see the Rays, of all teams, take on a player like Encarnacion who carries such a significant (if short-term) financial commitment. Encarnacion is owed $20MM in 2019, and there is a $5MM buyout on a $20MM contract option for his services in 2020. If Cleveland didn’t absorb any of that money, it stands to reason that the Rays would send along one of their higher-paid players back in the deal to help offset salary. While financial concerns might be paramount in such a trade between two smaller-market teams, Hoynes also suggests that the Tribe could look to acquire some needed bullpen help from a Rays team that is deep in relievers.
The inclusion of a controllable young player like Diaz would also help sweeten the pot for a club taking on Encarncion’s contract. Diaz, 27, has shown some intriguing potential at the plate over 299 Major League PAs, displaying some excellent exit velocity numbers, though also struggling at times to avoid hitting grounders. Diaz has been a third baseman for much of his pro career, though he has enough experience at first base, second base, and all three outfield spots that he fits the Rays’ preferred mold of a versatile, multi-position asset.
With the Tribe looking to get some high-priced veterans off the payroll, it would fascinating to see another low-payroll team like the Rays emerge as a trade partner. Encarnacion would certainly be a fit for the team’s search for another first base/DH type, as his big right-handed bat would perfectly complement the left-handed hitting Ji-Man Choi and Jake Bauers (the incumbent DH and first baseman). Since Bauers is still ticketed as the Rays’ first baseman of the future and Choi has years of control remaining, Encarnacion would represent a short-term rental for a Tampa club that has designs on contending in 2019.