With Austin Riley nearly as hot as the surface of the sun, the Atlanta Braves might have a dilemma looming. Nick Markakis is as steady as they come in right field. Ronald Acuna Jr.is a budding superstar. Ergo, the question becomes, “What will the Braves do with Ender Inciarte?”
Where Could Ender Inciarte Go?
There is no guarantee that the Braves will look to trade Inciarte, nor is there any clear precedent for what he might be worth. His defense has won him multiple Gold Gloves in center field, but his bat is league-average at best, and he has struggled in 2019.
The Braves have a veritable plethora of highly regarded pitching prospects. They also possess two blue-chip position player prospects in outfielders Cristian Pache and Drew Waters. Acuña and Ozzie Albies are locked into team-friendly extensions, and Austin Riley will be under club control for another six seasons. At some point soon, the sheer amount of young talent on the roster will force guys like Inciarte into reserve roles or onto other clubs.
The Braves’ needs are a catcher for the future, though the organization remains high on Alex Jackson, and bullpen help in the present. Either could be attainable for an asset with Inciarte’s history of production, but the Braves could also simply look for the best situation for Ender himself. They have no reason to seek a specific return here. Everyday at-bats for Riley would be a return in and of itself.
The Toronto Blue Jays (-1.9 fWAR)
The Blue Jays are going nowhere this year. They might not be interested in taking on a contract like Inciarte’s. However, they have to be mentioned.
Teoscar Hernandez has slumped his way back to AAA this season. Socrates Brito was awful enough to merit release. Kevin Pillar is now underperforming in San Francisco. Billy McKinney has been below average with the bat and the glove. In fact, Fangraphs rates the Blue Jays’ outfield as the worst in baseball, with only Randal Grichuk providing any positive value so far. Thus it seems like the Blue Jays would really like a redo with Dwight Smith. Or, put another way, it is likely the Blue Jays will at least kick the tires of an outfielder with Inciarte’s ability.
The Miami Marlins (-1.8 fWAR)
The Marlins are bad. Their offense is abysmal. 29-year-old minor league journeyman Jon Berti has been their best offensive threat in the outfield with a .237/.324/.373 line that’s still six percent below average. The best of a bad bunch is still bad.
Intradivisional trades are tricky, but the Marlins are absolutely desperate for something to go right in the outfield. If the Braves make Inciarte available, the Marlins have to call. Of course, the Braves might prefer not facing Inciarte’s glove 18 times a year.
The Cincinnati Reds (-1.8 fWAR)
The Reds are not making the call. Jesse Winker and Nick Senzel are going to sink or swim, and the Reds will go with them. Yasiel Puig is better than he has shown, and Phillip Evans has shown well in the past. The Reds’ number is a function of giving Matt Kemp and Scott Schebler too much April playing time and does not reflect a need for outfield help.
The Detroit Tigers (-1.2 fWAR)
As woebegone as Miami and Toronto are, the Tigers might be the first team on this list to make sense. Ender Inciarte at his best is a decent bat who plays high-quality center field defense. The Detroit Tigers have been searching for a center fielder forever, almost literally. It was going to be Curtis Granderson, except he was traded to the Yankees because he was getting expensive. It was going to be Austin Jackson, except he peaked at 25.
Since Austin Jackson’s 5 fWAR season in 2012, the position has been a relative black hole for Detroit. Jackson played fairly well again in 2013, though his offense declined before cratering in 2014. Since then, it has been a lot of Tyler Collins, Mikie Mahtook, Anthony Gose and Jacoby Jones. Ender Inciarte could stabilize what has been a revolving door in Detroit. If the Braves make him available, the Tigers are almost certain to call.
The San Francisco Giants (-0.8 fWAR)
28-year-old Mac Williamson is being given his first-ever extended look as a major league regular. It might have happened sooner but for injuries and a concussion last season. Nevertheless, it is a move of the “might as well” variety, not an expression of long-term confidence in his production. Steven Duggar hits like a light-hitting centerfield option and is manning right field. Kevin Pillar’s bat and glove have both taken steps backward with the Giants. Obviously, the Giants are going to explore any means of getting talent into their outfield. Inciarte fits the bill. The Giants are probably on even footing with Detroit here.
The Cleveland Indians (0.2 fWAR)
The Indians are not lacking for talent elsewhere on the diamond. When healthy, their rotation is fearsome. Brad Hand is an elite reliever. Jose Ramirez has been an MVP candidate, Carlos Santana is a veteran slugger, and Francisco Lindor is among the best in the game. For whatever reason, though, the Indians outfield never seems to come together.
Tyler Naquin and Bradley Zimmer cannot stay healthy. Greg Allen has struggled at the major league level. Jake Bauers remains a mystery. Right now, rookie Oscar Mercado and Pirates cast-off Jordan Luplow are the best outfielders Cleveland has. A veteran like Inciarte would be a welcome addition to the mix.
The Dark Horse
The Seattle Mariners (0.3 fWAR)
The Mariners have rocketed into reverse after their scorched earth start to the season. However, “Trader” Jerry Dipoto is never one to shy away from making moves. Domingo Santana can hit, but defensive metrics say that the outfield is really not working out for him (or for the Mariners). With Santana and Mitch Haniger around, the Mariners do not need Inciarte for his bat, perhaps making them the most likely landing spot for Inciarte.
Remember the “Hanley Ramirez Plays Left” experiment in Boston? Santana is doing his best to make that comedy of errors look like a highlight reel. He has somehow already amassed negative seven defensive runs saved, as well as negative ratings in every other defensive metric. Mallex Smith has struggled with the bat and the glove so far in 2019. Sliding last season’s National League gold glove winner into center field might be the best thing that could happen to the Mariners’ pitching staff.
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