Braves: Trading Inciarte this offseason is critical

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To the joy of many Braves fans, Ender Inciarte was not listed on Atlanta’s 2020 Wild Card Roster. I love Brian Snitker making the gutsy move here. Even if Pache doesn’t make a huge impact, he’s worth the gamble. They know who Inciarte is — one of the least valuable bats in baseball.

Ender has been along for the whole rebuild, but 2020 should be the last time we see him at Truist Park. His .520 OPS is hard to look at. For a reference point — Max Fried’s OPS was .530 in 2019. For qualified players, Nicky Lopez had the lowest OPS in the majors at .552. Lopez also had the lowest WRC+ at 55. Inciarte finished with 47. He only took 53 more at-bats than Inciarte. I don’t want to pile on the guy, but the numbers are telling.

As I said, it’s tough to criticize him like this. He has not been good — at all. However, he’s stuck around with Atlanta since the lean years of the rebuild and has had some good moments. He was an All-Star in 2017 and had a respectable .759 OPS. From 2016-2018, Ender was one of the better players on the team. He regularly smacked 25+ doubles, collected 24 home runs, and stole a total of 66 bases. He won a gold glove in each of those seasons. 2019 was pretty bad, and he’s fallen off a cliff in 2020. When he got his contract in December 2016, he seemed like a great value at 5 years, $30.5 million. That contract was insanely front-loaded and has slowly morphed into one of the worst in baseball.

Starting in 2017, Ender would make $2.7 million. In 2018, it jumped to $4.7 million, 2019 was $5.7 million, and 2020 was (normally) $7.7 million. Once again, the contract will rise by $1 million. Paying Ender $8.7 million in 2021 is unacceptable.

In a vacuum, this contract is ugly, but it’s manageable. However, we do not live in a vacuum. We live in a world that just saw a 60 game season with 0 fans. Atlanta also just paid $18 million to a guy who faced 14 batters. While that $18 million was pro-rated, it’s no big secret money will be tight going into 2021. With Marcell Ozuna, Mark Melancon, Shane Greene, and Darren O’Day all potentially needing new contracts and a Freddie Freeman extension on the horizon, Inciarte’s $9 million matters. Atlanta would take massive steps backward if they lost three of their top five bullpen arms and the NL home run leader because they have to pay Ender. Not to mention, this team may have Trevor Bauer sized aspirations to solidify their rotation as the best in baseball.

What can the team do about Inciarte? Cutting him does nothing — his entire salary for 2021 is guaranteed. He has a buyout for 2022 at a meager $1.025 million, but that does nothing for Marcell Ozuna and company this year. In my opinion, he absolutely has to be traded.

Let’s not kid ourselves; Atlanta is getting no value in return for Ender. However, if you think back to the Touki Toussaint deal, there’s a blueprint there. When Arizona sent Touki Toussaint to Atlanta in exchange for Phil Gosselin, they also included the leg kicking legend Bronson Arroyo.

The Diamondbacks had done Diamondbacks things and handed him a massive contract well past his prime. In an effort to get his $12 million off of the books and reset — they attached a former 1st round pick. While the Diamondbacks massively overpaid regardless of what Touki has done for the Braves so far, it is a strategy the team should pursue. This is where the Boston Red Sox come into play.

Boston has been absolutely ravaged by injuries and MLB sanctions, and as a result, they have been forced to cut salary. They bid goodbye to an MVP runner up in Mookie Betts and didn’t really get the value back they needed. It’s insane to think a team two years removed from a World Series could be this terrible. They currently have the fourth-worst record in the majors, and their 25th ranked farm system (MLB.com) is starving for starters. They’ll get Chris Sale back soon, but cutting salaries by trading guys like Mitch Moreland and firing their manager shows this window is slammed shut. 

Boston has some ugly contracts, most notably Nathan Eovaldi, and I think they’d be willing to take another big contract for one more season if they got a pitching prospect. Hell, the 2015 Braves were so terrible Arroyo probably could have gotten some innings if it wasn’t for his injury before being flipped to the Dodgers. An arm or two, guys like Victor Vodnik or Daysbel Hernandez — two high upside guys — could entice Boston to take Inciarte’s contract.

No matter who it is, if the prospect price is fair, Inciarte’s money has no place on Atlanta’s books. Losing Ozuna, Greene, or Melancon because the money isn’t there will be a massive failure on the part of Atlanta’s front office.

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