As a part of Mark Bowman’s weekly mailbox for MLB.com, he answered one of the questions that has been circulating Braves Country for a while now: Is it time to trade Ender Inciarte?
Somewhat surprisingly it wasn’t a full-blown “No” from Bowman. In fact, it was just the opposite. He very nearly said absolutely.
The now 28-year old center fielder was packaged along with Dansby Swanson for Shelby Miller before the 2016 season (what a steal that was). Since then, he’s made an All-Star team and has an ongoing stretch of three consecutive Gold Glove Awards. There’s no debate about whether Inciarte is among the best defensive outfielders in the league, but his bat has deteriorated over his time with the Braves.
Following Ender’s All-Star campaign (2017), he slashed .265/.325/.380 in 2018 and has begun this season with a .173 batting average.
Inciarte has been a notoriously slow starter, and the Braves are only sixteen games into 2019, so those numbers will rise significantly. He can still be a productive piece to a winning ball club due to his first-rate defense and contact back at the end of the order.
With that said, the Braves have to evaluate if Inciarte is holding them back at this point. It could not be more apparent that the lineup is much more potent with Johan Camargo in it rather than Inciarte, and Camargo has shown no difficulties transitioning to the outfield. The Braves also have the perfect replacement in center field with Ronald Acuña. Acuña might not be Inciarte yet, due to his lack of experience, but he possesses all of the physical traits to be just as good, if not better defensively.
Furthermore, the Braves have talent in the minor league system that will be major-league ready sooner rather than later. As Bowman states, Drew Waters needs at least another full season in the minor leagues, but Christian Pache has the opportunity to be a surprise call-up at some point this season.
Pache lit the world on fire in spring training, hitting .361 with two homers and five doubles in 38 plate appearances. He has not slowed down in his move to AA Mississippi. The 20-year old is batting .341 with a .973 OPS, five doubles, three triples, and 10 RBIs in just ten games. Pache is also regarded as the best fielder in the entire organization by many, making the Braves’ current center fielder even more expendable. There aren’t too many prospects that can make the jump from AA to the major leagues, but Pache has received comparisons to Andruw Jones. Jones made a similar jump to the majors when he was 19-years old.
Combine the above statements with Inciarte’s contract and there is a perfect storm for a potential trade. Ender is scheduled to make $5 million this year, $7 million in 2020, $8 million in 2021, and has a team option for $9 million in 2022. The Braves have had to pinch pennies ever since Liberty Media took over in 2007. That’s not going to change any time soon, making it difficult to see Inciarte sticking around for much longer due to the emergence of the Braves’ prospects.
There is the option of letting Inciarte take over the bench spot that will be left over when Camargo becomes the full-time starter. However, with Matt Joyce and Charlie Culberson proving to be a viable tandem, there is no reason to cripple Inciarte’s trade value by letting him rot on the bench. Plus, he doesn’t offer much pop in a pinch hitter’s role. The Braves have a desperate need for bullpen help, and there might not be a better time to find a new home for Inciarte in return for a reliable reliever.