The Logic Behind Trading Ender Inciarte

The Logic Behind Trading Ender Inciarte

As Ronald Acuna spent the last 18 months destroying minor
league baseball, there’s obviously been plenty of discussion of how and when
he’s going to make his debut in Atlanta. 
The “when” has basically been answered
as he almost certainly will be up at some point in 2018, with opening day being a real possibility. The “how” is a little more complicated, however, as the Braves
have three full-time outfielders under contract for 2018, with the two most likely candidates to be replaced also being the two most expensive and difficult to move. It’s been my
assumption all along, and still is, that Atlanta would find a trade partner for NickMarkakis, pay down however much of the contract is necessary, and open up RF
for their number one prospect.
But there is another option that at least needs to be considered. 
The other day in his weekly chat, ESPN prospect analyst Keith Law gave
this answer in response to a question on the subject:
It should be noted that while Law is very connected within
the game of baseball and specifically with the Atlanta Braves, this response
seems to be his opinion of what should happen and not necessarily something
he’s heard will happen from a source.
But that’s quite an opinion. Trade Ender Inciarte. Braves’
country reacted exactly how you would expect calling the suggestion ridiculous
and stupid with many offering the same insults to Law himself. Neither of those
things are true, but I’ll admit even my reaction to this idea was
negative at first. “Braves don’t have enough good players as it is, how can they think
about trading one away…” was my exact response, and while I still wouldn’t do
it, it has more merit than may first appear.
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First of all, regardless of whether you move Acuna to RF or
if you move Ender, you’re giving up potential value somewhere. Both guys are
true center fielders and while there is value in playing great defense in RF, it’s
a step down from the value you get from elite CF defense. I’ve seen people
argue against this idea by saying Kemp-Ender-Acuna is way better than
Kemp-Acuna-Markakis and while that specific statement is true, it’s actually not
the question at hand. What you’re actually weighing is Kemp-Ender-Acuna vs
Kemp-Acuna-Markakis and whatever you get in return for Ender in a trade. Theoretically,
the value Inciarte brings to Atlanta as a CF can be extracted out via trade which you can add to another part of the team and would be greater than the diminishing value you’d have by moving one of the CFs
to RF. The economic term for this, as Law mentioned, is a surplus. This idea only works, of course, if you’re getting equal or greater value back in return for Ender so one thing Atlanta has no business doing is trading him for salary relief. Clearing bad contracts off the books is something the team will have to address at some point but using your valuable assets to facilitate such a move is a terrible idea. That’s how Craig Kimbrel trades happen. No, it has to be talent for talent to make any sense. And regardless of your personal
feelings toward Inciarte, it’s a valid argument.
But that isn’t the only argument. There’s another variable
to trading Inciarte that has nothing to do with Ronald Acuna. Ender is an
outfielder who derives just about all his value from defense. Ender was also a
late bloomer in baseball and because of that he starts next year already 27-years-old.
Those two facts combined have significance.  As we’ve learned more and more about defensive
value and metrics over the last few years, one truth discovered is defense is a
young man’s game. Especially outfield defense. The first things to go as
players age is their legs, speed, and range and given that, it’s not hard to
understand why outfield defense ages so poorly.
And in Ender’s case this is especially significant because
he doesn’t have the bat to supplement that value. Inciarte’s wRC+ sits at 100
this year and at 96 for his career. That’s what he is, right at a league
average hitter. Combine that with elite CF defense and you have a 3-4 WAR
player. Take away that defensive value and you have Nick Markakis. Now at 27, Ender
is in no threat of losing his defensive value next year, or probably the year
after that. But the year after that? Maybe. And that’s most likely when Atlanta’s
contention window will just be opening. And having one of your best players
declining as you begin winning isn’t great planning. So this is an idea that
has to at least be considered.
This is all very unlikely, of course, as I don’t think they’ll do it and like I said at the top, I’m not
even at the point where I think they should do it. But if a team looking to win a
World Series in the next couple of years offered a serious package of
prospects, and considering all the other factors, I seriously consider
pulling the trigger.

1 Comments

Interesting proposal.

Like you, I was 'aghast' at the thought of trading Inciarte INSTEAD of either Kemp and/or Markakis (I'd rather trade Markakis, because he's FAR EASIER to trade with only 1 year/$10.5 mil left on his contract..which would easily open up a spot in RF for Acuna).

While Kemp is an easy target by fans because of his lack of quality defense in LF….I feel that an outfield of Inciarte in Center AND Acuna in RF would make it a little easier to cover some of the deficiencies that Kemp has in LF. Also, if The Braves can do a better job of keeping Kemp healthy….he provides value as a clean-up hitter who can hit homers (I get it, his OBP isnt great…however we are basically STUCK with Kemp for the next two years….and we can get value/production from him due to his power).

2018 Line-up:

1. Ozzie Albies..2B
2. Ronald Acuna…RF
3. Freddie Freeman…1B
4. Matt Kemp….LF
5. Ender Inciarte…CF
6. Tyler Flowers….C
7. Rio Ruiz/Johan Carmago…3B
8. Dansby Swanson….SS

Assuming that the only major offensive move Braves Management makes are 1. trading Markakis AND Matt Adams…..this lineup has decent possibilities. While Inciarte has hit leadoff for all of 2017….the speed/high OBP/high batting average of BOTH Albies AND Acuna will give NIGHTMARES for opposing teams! Also, it would give Freddie Freeman a GREAT CHANCE to lead MLB in RBIs in 2018!

I'd have Inciarte hit #5 behind Kemp (proving lefty-righty balance throughout the batting order). Inciarte can focus on hitting the ball hard in the #5 spot of the order (his OBP simply does not play long term hitting leadoff). I feel that Inciarte can put up some decent RBI numbers hitting #5 in front of Tyler Flowers…whose shown that he has some clutch hitting in him!

With Austin Riley set to open 2018 in Triple A….I'd rather forgo paying HUGE MONEY to a free agent 3rd-sacker…and go with a platoon of Ruiz-Carmago at 3rd (Carmago can switch hit). Dansby Swanson is suited to hit #8. He can draw walks, get on base, not have pressure to hit/drive in runs consistently! Turning over the batting order has VALUE long term in a line-up!

Matt Kemp will be MUCH EASIER to trade after The 2018 Season (he'll only have one year/$19 mil left on his contract). A team in The AL in need of a DH will be happy to trade for Kemp (especially if he can rebound/stay healthy in 2018…which I feel is a possibility IF we get improved pitching that DOES NOT get rocked, meaning that hard hit balls routinely hit to Kemp runs him ragged throughout the year, lol).

Even if we have to eat some of the last year of Kemp's contract…it would free up payroll (to go along with THE SIGNIFICANT SAVINGS that we absorbed by basically STAYING OUT of Free Agency after The 2017 Season) by going with the above line-up! We'd have plenty of money to go after EITHER/AND/OR Manny Machado/Bryce Harper! Our Pitching Staff come the start of The 2019 Season will be INSANELY CHEAP/HELLA HARD-THROWING and Effective…especially if we decide to trade EITHER/AND/OR Julio Teheran/Mike Folty….because Soroka and Allard have shown during 2018 in Triple A that they are ready to join Gohara/Newcomb/Fried (Sims, if Fried gets slotted in an Andrew Miller-type role)…who have proven that they belong during The 2018 Season (BIG IFS)!

I'm excited to see how things play out during Spring Training/The 2018 Season! Even if some 'hiccups' occur next year…we have Wentz/Tooki/Wilson/eventually Patrick Weigel/(along with others who have upside but not getting the attention that our highly rated prospects are getting)!

I just hope that Braves Management DOES NOT DEVIATE from 'The Process'! If we just wait ONE MORE YEAR (TWO MORE, at most)…we will be primed (either in 2019 OR 2020) to begin a similar run of success that we enjoyed from 1991-2005! The last thing I want to see..is IMPATIENT Management make some ill-advised trades/free agent signings for 'proven' MLB starting pitching that costs TOO MUCH MONEY!

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