Back in early December, Chase Irle here at SportsTalkATL brought up the ongoing topic regarding Braves’ center fielder Ender Inciarte and the potential for him to land in a trade package headed out of Atlanta. In Chase’s write-up, he came to the same conclusion a lot of us have, and that is that Inciarte will most likely be moved soon, given that top prospect Cristian Pache is seemingly months away from an MLB debut.
Obviously, Inciarte is still a Brave and is expected to man his usual spot in the middle of the Braves’ outfield in 2020, with newly-signed Marcell Ozuna on his right and Ronald Acuna Jr. to his left. However, there’s good reason to believe that the days are numbered for our fiery and passionate Venezuelan outfielder.
For starters, Inciarte only has, counting the 2020 season, two more guaranteed years left on the 5-year, $30.525 million extension he signed back in 2017, when he was still just a 26-year-old Gold Glove defender (granted, there is a $9MM club option for the 2022 season, with a $1.025MM buyout). If you hadn’t noticed, teams very rarely just let a player play out his deal and walk away for nothing. The Braves will be interested in obtaining value from Inciarte sooner rather than later.
As we witnessed in 2019 — when he was healthy — Inciarte wasn’t the same player he was from 2016-18, as numerous aspects of his game regressed. Some of that regression was undoubtedly due to injuries, though some of it’s because Inciarte is no longer the 25-year-old toolsy player he once was when the Braves traded for him in the winter of 2015.
Even if we include the 2018 season — the second-best season of his career — Inciarte’s play has suffered relative to the three seasons prior (one of which being his final season in Arizona).
*Stats below are his average numbers
140 GP, .300 AVG, .747 OPS, 7 HR, 26 2B, 20 SB, 7.0 BB%, 12.8 K%, 6.4 UZR, 2.8 WAR
110 GP, .260 AVG, .714 OPS, 8 HR, 19 2B, 18 SB, 9.5 BB%, 16.0 K%, 3.9 UZR, 1.9 WAR
Then there’s, of course, the most obvious reason for the Braves to include Inciarte in a trade soon: prospect outfielder Cristian Pache. The hype surrounding Pache has many believing the young outfielder is ready to join the Braves this season, as his strides with the bat in 2019 stood as the final obstacle blocking him from an MLB debut. I don’t see any reason for such urgency, but when considering the many moving parts that will be required to open a spot for Pache at the big league level, perhaps there’s no better time than 2020. Rostering Inciarte AND Pache would be quite an unnecessary burden on the Braves, both financially and logically, and the only way to avoid such a logjam is to trade the former while he still can provide above-replacement value.
Plus, we all know the Braves’ starting rotation is very unlikely to hold up the entire 2020 season. By the time July comes, the staff could be in desperate need of a pick-me-up, and what better trade chip to use than one of the most expendable players on the 25-man roster? There are just so many ways a deal involving Inciarte benefits the Braves, both for the present and the future.
However, the other side of all this is the fact that none of us really want Inciarte to be traded. He has been such a big part of the Braves for several years now, featuring elite defense, great base running, and even clutch at-bats at the plate.
There was a time when balls hit to center were a for-sure out, as Inciarte’s range on the grass was perhaps the best in the business…
And we’ll never forget Inciarte’s walk-off squeeze bunt back in 2018, which was probably one of the coolest plays I’ve seen in a Braves’ game since Chipper walked it off in his final homestand at Turner Field in 2012…
(Skip to 1:40 for his bunt)
Granted, the Braves could very well hold on to Inciarte this season. He’s still a productive player and right now he’s a healthy one, who is plenty capable of putting together a strong 2020 season; but it appears the time has come for Inciarte to pass the torch on to the next deserving player.