Edwin Encarnación trade forces Yankees to make tough call in demoting Clint Frazier

Ben WeinribYahoo Sports Contributor

It was inevitable that someone would lose out on a lot of at-bats when the New York Yankees acquired the AL home run leader, Edwin Encarnación, on Saturday.

Unfortunately the big loser appears to be Clint Frazier.

Despite placing fourth on the team with 11 home runs and slashing .285/.333/.522, Frazier was optioned to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, the team announced Sunday. The move certainly caught Frazier by surprise.

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“This is the reality of things,” Frazier said to reporters. “Guess I'm facing reality right now. It's a tough pill to swallow. It's never fun, especially with how much I've felt like I’ve contributed to this team.”

Why was Frazier the odd man out?

The short answer to why Frazier had to be sent down is that he is the only player the Yankees actually can option to the minors. Veterans would have the right to hit free agency, and Frazier still has two options left. It’s not entirely fair, but it’s how the system works.

With Encarnación set to split first base and designated hitter duties with Beefy Dinger Man Luke Voit, that leaves Frazier to fight for playing time in the outfield. However, with Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge due back imminently and the team investing $70 million in Aaron Hicks, there wouldn’t be much playing time for him. Even Yankee stalwart Brett Gardner appears likely to ride the pine for extended periods of time.

Frazier won’t spend the whole year in the minors, of course. No team has faced injuries quite to the extent the Yankees have this year, and it would be foolish to assume perfect health through September.

Frazier didn’t do himself any favors with his poor defensive play in right field, though. His -10 Defensive Runs Saved rank second-worst in baseball, and there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to back that up too. A trip to the minors could give him more time to work on that defense and potentially his relationship with the media.

Baseball is full of tough breaks, and Clint Frazier is headed for the minors. (Fred Thornhill/The Canadian Press via AP)
Baseball is full of tough breaks, and Clint Frazier is headed for the minors. (Fred Thornhill/The Canadian Press via AP)

Might Frazier not be long for New York?

Although Encarnación will be a free agent at the end of the year, there still may not be much space going forward for Frazier with Stanton, Hicks and Judge cemented in the outfield. Even the Yankees’ top four hitting prospects are all outfielders.

With excess hitting depth, the Yankees could trade a hitter for a position of need. Veterans Gardner and Ellsbury are not going to draw much interest, while Gleyber Torres and Luke Voit are likely considered too integral to the team’s future to trade. That leaves Frazier as the most obvious trade piece.

Right now, the Yankees’ biggest hole is in their rotation with injuries to six different starting pitchers less than three months in the year. Despite that, they still rank 12th in starting pitcher WAR, although that trails the five other major AL playoff contender.

While the Yankees missed out on Dallas Keuchel when they were outbid by the Atlanta Braves, there are plenty of starting pitchers on the trade market. They’ve already expressed interest in Marcus Stroman and Madison Bumgarner, and maybe after a slow start, the Indians will be willing to listen again on Trevor Bauer and Corey Kluber.

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