Law: Indians trade risk for expense in Santana-Encarnacion swap

Following the Seattle Mariners' Jean Segura-led trade with the Phillies, it always seemed like Carlos Santana would be subsequently flipped, which the Mariners finally did on Thursday as part of a three-team deal. As a result, at the moment they have Edwin Encarnacion, Santana is reunited with the Cleveland Indians, and the Tampa Bay Rays swapped Jake Bauers to Cleveland for Yandy Diaz, with a probable Encarnacion trade still to come.

Encarnacion's second year in Cleveland on his three-year deal (plus a 2020 option) was his worst season at the plate since 2011, with the highest strikeout rate of his major-league career. So there was every reason for Cleveland to be concerned about what he might do over the next year or two and whether the contract might become dead money. They take on more expense in adding Carlos Santana, who's a better overall hitter thanks to his on-base skills, also is best served as a DH, and seems poised for a modest return to form after a career-worst BABIP. Cleveland is trying to shed some payroll but still contend for the AL Central title in 2019; this trade makes them at least a win better, maybe 2-3, at a modest cost, while still bringing in a younger player who could help them in the long term.

Tampa Bay adds Diaz, a third baseman who has always hit for average but has no power. He makes a lot of hard contact but often puts the ball on the ground. It's easy to say that Diaz could benefit from a change to his launch angle -- put a pin in that thought, we're going to talk about it again -- but I'm sure Cleveland tried this with him already. He has produced all of one home run in 299 major-league plate appearances so far, with a 56.6 percent ground ball rate, tied for 10th-highest in MLB over the past two years (minimum 200 PA). Even when he hits the ball hard, it's on the ground: 53 percent of the balls he hit with exit velocity of 95 mph or greater were ground balls. He's at least an average defender at third base and could fill in as either a first baseman or corner outfielder, so if the Rays can get him to put the ball in the air more by doing something that Cleveland didn't, they could end up with an above-average or better regular here -- but it doesn't seem terribly likely.

The Rays must have soured on Bauers after attempts to unlock more power by changing his launch angle, creating more loft in the finish to his swing, failed. Bauers returned to his old swing mechanics, which are geared towards hitting for average and high contact but not power. Of course, he didn't even hit for contact in his rookie year in 2018, striking out 26.8 percent of the time and posting a .201/.316/.384 line in 388 PA and producing less than nothing against lefties. He'll play in his age-23 season in 2019 and did have a strong track record of hitting for contact throughout the minors, so there's still good reason to think he'll develop into a regular at first base, but the lack of power limits his ceiling and he's not good enough on defense to play other positions.

The Mariners clear salary here, add a draft pick in the competitive balance B round (and thus increase their draft bonus pool), and can still add another prospect by trading Encarnacion away. Their rebuilding continues apace, and now they have some extra cash to play with in the draft in June.