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Losing Edwin Encarnación suggests the Rays are still not willing to spend

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This is the third time this season the Rays have come up short on a superstar.

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Seattle Mariners Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

There wasn’t much to say about the Rays losing out on trading for American League homerun leader Edwin Encarnación when the Yankees first swept in to nab the player who seemed destined to join the Rays and bolster the team’s roster.

But now that the dust has settled, Joel Sherman has some reflection from his conversation with Yankees GM Brian Cashman, with this standing out the most:

— Did the Yankees block the Rays from acquiring Encarnación? Very possibly. But Cashman insisted that was not the motivation. The Yankees owe roughly $8 million to Encarnación between his salary this year and the buyout on his 2020 option minus the $8.4 million-ish that the Mariners included. Tampa Bay was willing to give better prospects, but not owe Encarnación as much (the Rays lost Nelson Cruz in free agency to the Twins for essentially this reason). The Mariners’ goal now is to save as many dollars as possible and so accepted Juan Then from the Yanks — an acceptable price in the Yanks’ mind to acquire the AL home run leader.

[NY Post]

Sherman is perfectly right to wonder about the timing. The Rays traveled to NYC last night to take on the Yankees, who are adding Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge to their lineups off the injured list this week. They were adding two of the best power hitters in baseball, why go get a third?

Cashman gets it. By acquiring Edwin Encarnación, the Yankees do not have to face Edwin Encarnación, even if the fit on the roster pushes Giancarlo Stanton back into left field.

For a Rays fan, the feeling is familiar in two ways.

First, this trade opportunity came down to money. Even though the Rays were (on paper) already paying $5 million of Encarnación’s salary via the Yandy Diaz three-team trade, the remaining cost of Encarnación’s 2019 salary and $5 million buy out for next season was prohibitive for the Rays. After showing a willingness to open the pocketbook to improve a contending team, it looks like the Rays were not willing to spend after all.

Read More: Rays outbid for Craig Kimbrel by $4 million

Second, allow me an aside.

When you ask Rays staff or fans their biggest regret it’s not falling short in the 2008 World Series. It’s the failure to get beyond the first round of the 2010 playoffs. Owner Stuart Sternberg has said the Rays were missing a bat, but I’ve always felt the missed opportunity was failing to trade for the guy mowing the Rays down in Game 1 and 5 of the ALDS: Cliff Lee, an acquirable talent.

By not trading for Cliff Lee, the Rays were taken out of the playoffs by one of the season’s most elite pitchers.

Encarnación is not the most elite hitter of the season, but adding a player of his caliber, arguably one of the 20-25 best hitters in baseball this season, is exactly what a team with its eye on the playoffs should do. The Yankees have acted accordingly.

Neander, your move.