Even the holidays can't stop the Hot Stove from burning this offseason.
Edwin Encarnacion agreed to a one-year deal with the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday evening. The slugger, who played 44 games with the Yankees this past season after being acquired from the Seattle Mariners in mid-June, signed for $12 million -- with a player option for 2021.
It's no surprise Encarnacion won't be returning to the Bronx for a second season. Shortly after the Yankees' early postseason exit, New York declined the 36-year-old's $20 million option -- spending $5 million on his buyout -- officially sending the home-run hitter into free agency.
Although he's crushed 30-plus home runs in each of the last eight seasons, Encarnacion's contributions in pinstripes were nothing to write home about. And forget the regular season, in which he managed just 13 long balls in his four months with the Bombers -- it's hard to look past his performance in the ALCS when it mattered most. Encarnacion went 1-18 against Houston -- an atrocious batting average of .056 -- with 11 strikeouts over five games.
Encarnacion's departure marks the fourth member of the 2019 roster to find a new home over the past few weeks via the free-agent market. Both Didi Gregorius and Austin Romine signed one-year contracts at the Winter Meetings while Dellin Betances ended his eight-year stint with the Bombers on Christmas Eve, inking a one-year deal to play across town with the Mets.
Those four former Yanks aren't the only ballplayers that won't be returning to the Bronx in 2020. Take a look at all 12 players from this past season that entered this offseason as free agents -- or had their own respective and distinct circumstances.
Re-signed with New York, one-year deal
Philadelphia Phillies, one-year deal
Detroit Tigers, one-year deal
New York Mets, one-year deal
Chicago White Sox, one-year deal
Free Agent, Released by Yankees in November
Free Agent, DFA'd by Yankees in November
Not everyone on that list expected to be there this offseason. Jacoby Ellsbury was released by the club in late-November, an unceremonious conclusion to one of the worst free-agent signings in recent history, as New York swallows the remaining $26 million on the outfielder's seven-year, $153 million contract. On the same day, the Yankees designated first baseman Greg Bird and reliever Nestor Cortes Jr. for assignment -- Cortes Jr. was dealt to the Mariners shortly after in exchange for international signing bonus pool money.
Ellsbury, who hasn't played since the 2017 postseason due to injuries, is the only member of that list who didn't touch the field for the Yanks in 2019. Therefore, and assuming New York decides not to bring back the remaining free agents, here's the collective impact on this roster in 2020.
Although it's a small sample size for some, the cumulative WAR of those 10 players is 3.9. Assuming New York chooses not to re-sign Maybin, Gearrin, Hale, Lyons and Bird, that's four wins above replacement subtracted from their 2019 total.
Between the top-five players on that list -- Gregorius, Maybin, Romine, Encarnacion and Sabathia, ranked in descending order of games played -- a total of 4.1 WAR will be lost as they move on to new teams in 2020 (or retirement in CC's case). To put that WAR data into perspective, the Yankees finished in fourth place for the most WAR as a team in 2019 with 49.8 (behind the Astros, Dodgers and A's.
Four wins is worth quite a bit when it comes to a playoff race, fighting for a spot in the postseason or jockeying for position atop the American League leaderboard for home-field advantage. In 2019, the Washington Nationals finished with approximately 4 fewer WAR than the Yanks (the World Series champs finished the regular season with a 45.5 WAR). Wins above replacement isn't the be-all and end-all when it comes to winning games -- there's quite a few factors to recognize -- but for argument's sake, the Nats finished with 10 fewer wins on the season than the Yankees and entered the postseason as a wild card team rather than a division winner.
Then again, Dellin Betances played less than one inning in 2019, Gregorius was on the mend after returning from Tommy John surgery and Encarnacion played only about a quarter of the season with New York. If they can stay healthy and put together solid seasons with their new teams, on their one-year deals, New York could be missing out on more in 2020 than originally anticipated.
Either way, after re-signing Brett Gardner -- who's resounding impact as a veteran and the longest-tenured Yankee is felt off the field beyond the numbers -- those net losses are less of a blow. Gardner had New York's third-highest WAR in 2019 (4.0) the second-best for the 36-year-old outfielder since 2014.
Also, you may recall the Yankees added Gerrit Cole this offseason. You know, to the record-high nine-year, $324 million deal?
Cole had a 6.9 WAR in 2019, fifth-best among pitchers and tied for tenth-highest in all of baseball. Besides Aaron Judge's Rookie of the Year Award winning season in 2017 (8.1 WAR), 6.9 would've been the highest total wins above replacement for any Bronx Bomber since Robinson Cano (7.8) in 2013.
Beyond the numbers, some departures will sting substantially. Didi Gregorius' time as Derek Jeter's replacement officially comes to a close, Dellin Betances' stint in the Yankees' bullpen as one of the league's most dominant relievers is in the rear-view mirror, Austin Romine's eight-year tenure as the Yankees' backup catcher (and liaison from the pitching staff to the media) is over and CC Sabathia hangs up the cleats after an illustrious career.
The addition of Cole and re-upping Gardner for at least one more year evidently satisfies the net deduction in WAR, but there's no way to know how those losses will be felt in 2020. Giancarlo Stanton, Miguel Andujar and Luis Severino are poised to bounce back in their production after injuries kept them sidelined for the vast majority of 2019, while conversely, it's fair to predict a decline in DJ LeMahieu's output after he exceeded all expectations last season (leading the Yankees with a 6.0 WAR).
Only time will tell if the decisions to let Didi, Dellin, Edwin and Austin walk will come back to haunt the Yankees -- as of now, however, it appears New York has improved despite the departures of some of the most beloved ballplayers by the Yankee faithful.
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