Why So Much Ender Trade Talk?

Why So Much Ender Trade Talk?

For a guy, well-beloved by the Braves faithful, there sure have been a lot of articles about trading Ender Inciarte. Tomahawk Take’s Tyler Wilson recently ran one, asking if trading Inciarte for Ian Happ was a good idea. Talking Chop’s Kris Willis asked a similar question back in November. In full disclosure, our Stephen Tolbert did the same back in September.

Many fans have been appalled by this idea and you can’t really blame them. For a team that has traded so many of its “cornerstones” over the last few years, moving Inciarte so soon after he signed a long-term extension seems bonkers. It seems even more bonkers to trade a young controllable asset when you are trying to convince everyone that you are moving away from a rebuild and toward a more competitive direction. Inciarte has 6.6 fWAR over the last two seasons, tied for tenth among center fielders over the last two years. He’s a defensive marvel, an improving hitter, and fairly cheap. What gives with all the trade talk?

For what it’s worth, none of the trade talk seems to come from “sources.” Rather, it’s always theoretical. For instance, the Cubs have liked Inciarte and could use a center fielder. It would appear like a perfect match, bloggers and other writers theorize. They’re not wrong. Inciarte would be a good fit for a number of teams. Most good players are.

But what about the Braves? Why should they entertain the idea of trading who they would owe a maximum of $33 million over the next five years to? Let’s look at the reasoning the Braves may consider a trade and whether it truly makes much sense.

1) Opens a Spot for Ronald Acuna

This is the most cited reason and it is unlikely to go away even after Matt Kemp‘s trade on Sunday. Moving Inciarte opens center field, a position Acuna has played often in his short career. There are some whispers that Acuna may grow out of center field as matures, but the expectation is that the now 20-year-old can handle center field for the foreseeable future.

By the way, just want to wish Acuna a happy birthday!

Of course, just because Acuna can play center field doesn’t mean he can play it better than Inciarte. While there is some stiff competition for the best defensive center fielder title (Byron Buxton, Kevin Pillar, and others), Inciarte has earned his place among the elite to man the position right now. Moving Acuna to center field would ask the young man to fill some pretty big shoes. Furthermore, considering Alex Anthopoulos’s desire to improve the team’s defense, having both Acuna and Inciarte in the outfield would appear the easier fit than opening up center field for the kid.

2) Trading Inciarte and using Acuna in center maximizes both’s value

This is an abbreviated form of the argument made by ESPN’s Keith Law a few months back that Stephen covered. Acuna’s greatest value would come in center field where he can put up elite offensive numbers to match, what we expect to be, plus defense. Inciarte’s offense wouldn’t play in the corner outfield slots quite as well so trading him would potentially maximize the “problem” of having two center fielders, but only being able to use one of them in center field.

Theoretically, Law’s right, by the way. Regardless of the corner outfield position Acuna plays, he would have a tick less value than he would if he was playing center field and doing it well. With some competitive teams in need of a plus center fielder (Cubs, Giants, Rangers), putting Inciarte on the market could be an effective way to trade from a strength.

<a rel=The problem here is similar to the idea of how much WAR costs in dollars. We have a basic idea of what 1 WAR costs and if a player reaches 1 WAR, but is paid under that benchmark, he’s not really being overpaid. Or at least, that’s the theory. The practical application of that kind of thinking is a bit iffy. For instance, $8 million – roughly Fangraphs’ benchmark for 1 WAR – means less to the Dodgers than it does to the Rays. The Dodgers can spend that $8M for 1 WAR and feel like they are still doing okay. The Rays will see $8M spent on a player providing 1 WAR and not feel they are getting enough bang for their buck.

These baseball decisions don’t live in a vacuum. Certainly, ignoring everything, it makes more sense on paper to trade Inciarte because of his specific value as an elite-level center fielder rather than sacrifice some of Acuna’s value by playing him at a less important position. For the Braves, however, that’s not a decision they will worry themselves with. The Braves would rather find value wherever they can get it. For them, yeah, you may not be maximizing Acuna’s value at a corner. At the same time, they aren’t likely going to replace Inciarte’s three wins very easily.

3) But Inciate could bring back a big hitter

As Tyler Wilson and others have written, an Ian Happ/Ender Inciate swap makes theoretical sense for both clubs. Happ could definitely come in and replace Inciate as far as value goes. And though I risk the wrath of Josh Brown and others, Inciate is not a plus-plus hitter. Yes, he had 200 hits and that does matter, but it still only meant that Inciarte was a league-average hitter with a .328 wOBA and 100 wRC+. That’s not to bag on him because he’s still a three-win player, but strip away the defense and he’s Ben Gamel. Gamel was a 1.6 fWAR player.

So, at least on paper, trading Inciarte could help the Braves have a better offense depending on the return. Atlanta finished 21st in the league in wOBA last season and adding more dynamic offensive players could push them closer to the Top 10.

I’ll be honest – there’s no more compelling argument for trading Inciarte than the offensive side of things. The only argument that makes logical sense is that teams don’t tend to give up the kind of dynamic offensive threats that are both better than Inciarte and have established themselves in the majors. Chances are, you’d have to take a bit of a gamble. Even Happ, who I do like a lot, has his questions (namely, questionable plate discipline) and that’s likely the best type of hitter Atlanta could target in a trade involving Inciarte.

Here’s The Thing, Though

Does it make sense right now to trade Ender Inciarte? I get the idea that trading Inciarte could bring back a dynamic offensive talent, though I have my doubts Inciarte alone can bring back the kind of talent others are talking up. I don’t buy the idea that for the Braves, it makes better sense to play Acuna in center field even if that’s the logical approach to maximize value. More – I’m just not sure it makes sense to trade Inciarte right now for Atlanta.

Let’s look at this from both a practical sense and a future value sense.

The practical is simple – Inciarte fits the vision that Alex Anthopoulos has discussed. The Braves new General Manager wants to improve the team defense. Trading their best defender is a hell of a way to try to do that. Anthopoulos’ idea is not that dissimilar to the one John Schuerholz had when he took over. Bring in players who can catch the ball and make plays in the field to help your young pitching staff.

The Braves finished last season 24th in ERA, but six spots better in FIP. Could a better defense have led to more plays made and fewer runs allowed? Absolutely. Despite having Inciarte, the Braves finished with fewer Defensive Runs Saved than 26 other clubs. Matt Kemp and the second base version of Brandon Phillips accounted for -22 DRS alone (mostly Kemp, of course). Atlanta has already improved second base with Ozzie Albies – though he might end up at shortstop. Playing an outfield with both Inciarte and Acuna could go a long way toward improving the outfield defense as well.

Simply put, if improving the defense is a goal for Anthopoulos, having Inciarte is a great step toward achieving that.

There’s also future value. Inciarte improved his offensive numbers from a .319 wOBA his first year in Atlanta to a .328 mark his second season. It’s not a significant gain, but it did represent a new personal high. He also showed over the last two seasons that he can get hit left-hand pitching. That was a genuine concern when he was acquired. At 27, there is a good chance that he improves his game a bit more, which will also improve his value.

Let’s also think of Inciarte’s value next winter versus right now. I can see maybe three true matches for Inciarte right now – the Cubs, Rangers, and Giants. However, next winter, center fielders like Charlie Blackmon, Adam Jones, A.J. Pollock, and potentially Brett Gardner hit the open market. If San Francisco doesn’t add a CF now, they could also be in the hunt with Denard Span off their ledger. More teams looking to address center field could mean a better market to trade Inciarte in.

You might argue that those potential free agents won’t cost the team players like a trade would. That alone makes them more preferable. You’re not wrong, but consider the math of the situation. Inciarte, a three-win player, will cost his team $5M in 2019 and, at most, $24M the following three years. If you are a team who can’t compete on the open market, you could be inclined to make a run at a cheaper Inciarte. Even if you are a team that can go toe-to-toe with the other big spenders, staying under the luxury tax could be a big incentive to trade for a cheap, productive player like Inciarte.

The idea of trading Inciarte is both confusing for many Braves fans and exciting for those that love themselves some rosterbation. However, I would caution that trading Inciarte now isn’t the right idea. If anything, it’s shortsighted and is contrary to everything the Braves have said over the last month that they value. It’s the kind of move that makes sense on paper, but not for practical purposes.

To sum up, it’s an attempt to solve one problem while making a new one. Atlanta has enough problems that need solutions first.

17 Comments

The problem is: speed and defense go away first. So probably in 2018 season Inciarte will be more valuable than in 2019 etc. Braves won’t be in competition in 2018. SO it would make sense to exchange Inciarte’s 2018 production for somebody’s else 2019 or 2020 etc production.

It’s all about assets alocation 🙂

That’s absolutely fair. Thanks for reading, by the way.

I’m not too concerned about Ender’s speed/defense getting any worse until he’s at least 30, but I do accept the premise. It’s why I was so much more on board with signing Melvin Upton over Michael Bourn. Which so clearly worked wonders. Oops. But seriously, I’m open to revisiting this idea after 2018. I’m not convinced, though, it’s the right move now.

Hear, Hear, Sir! I applaud you! I’ve read every article that you mentioned and have gone away unimpressed by their reasoning. Ender is the exact type of player we need for the present. He and Albies will set the table, offensively, and wait for Freddie Freeman or Acuna to drive them in. But, what good, though, is scoring runs if you can’t prevent them? We need both offensive and defensive upgrades for our Braves. Trading Ender makes us worse defensively and, in my opinion, offensively. As Simon Cowell would say: “It’s a big fat no, for me!”

While I love what Inciarte has brought to The Braves since The Shelby Miller Trade…I want NO PART of Inciarte hitting leadoff from here on out.

Albies should be our leadoff hitter, followed by Acuna. The combination of speed/drawing walks/power from these two TABLE SETTERS/causing HAVOC on the basepaths….will put Freddie Freeman in the position to lead MLB in RBIs in 2018! Inciarte simply does not draw a lot of walks…and gets throw out too much as a base stealer (22 steals, 9 CS).

I keep hearing talk of Acuna being slotted to hit #4-#5 (because of his power). However, that would be A TOTAL WASTE of the speed he offers! Having Acuna hit behind Freeman…would slow Acuna down if he gets on base with Freddie already on base (Freeman isnt exactly the ‘fleetest of feet’, lol).

Unless The Braves acquire another bat/assuming we keep Markakis…then I would drop Inciarte down to #7 in this Opening Day Order:

1. Albies
2. Acuna
3. Freeman
4. Flowers/Suzuki (got to split the lefty-righty balance)
5. Markakis
6. Rio/Carmago
7. Inciarte
8. Swanson (at this point, I want him to focus on playing defense, drawing walks/getting the bloop hit..anything to clear the pitcher’s spot. If Swanson rebounds with the bat, then it’ll make sense to revisit moving him up higher in the order. But until then….#8 it is for him)!

Having Albies/Acuna spend 2018 getting acclimated to the top of the batting order…will let Braves Management know what they have….as well as visualize the importance of IMPROVING the production that we need to have from Left Field and 3rd base (imagine having Machado and Harper hitting #4-#5 in this lineup! Playoffs here we come!).

Uh, no to Acuna batting #2. He’s not any faster than Inciarte and can be a monster RBI guy in the three hole. Plus, as talented as he is, he may not draw many walks in his young career either. Most youngsters don’t have a favorable major league K/B ratio until they mature as a hitter. Plus, I wouldn’t want Flowers/Suzuki hitting clean up. They were a great tandem in 2017, but are due to come back to earth. They’ll slot better at the five, with Freeman hitting cleanup.

Josh, check out Inciarte’s OBP. Pretty low for a leadoff hitter. He simply does not draw a lot of walks (while Acuna has always had a good eye in The Minors). 49 walks/662 at bats..a .350 obp isnt that high when your batting average was .304 for the season.

Albies hitting leadoff with Acuna hitting #2 (by the way, both Albies and Acuna are faster than Inciarte (22 stolen bases isnt all that much..given that he was caught stealing 9 times in 2017).

I can understand the logic those wanting the Braves to trade Ender are following, and in some ways the Braves could absorb the loss. Albies would slot right into the leadoff spot, and I feel like the ideal spot in the order for Acuna will eventually be hitting second. If Ender wasn’t locked into a fantastic, club-friendly long-term deal- I’d say do the deal for Happ today.

That said, Atlanta does have him signed for the next five years- cheaply. If he does lose a bit of what makes him special, he still probably wouldn’t be that hard to move in the latter years of the contract. I’m also not that high on the idea of Atlanta continuing to move ML assets, unless it’s Tehran. To me, unless SF calls and wants to talk Bumgarner for Ender, which isn’t happening… I’d say no deal.

The contract is great and therefore the value of Inciarte is high. We could get for him more than we would if his contract was less team friendly.

The concept of trading Ender very well should be in play. Like many other things, I proposed this pretty seriously back during the season to Thomas and I was dead serious about it, noting the potential that we could be stuck with Kemp, had Acuna and that trading Ender could either finish off the rebuild in a huge way and/or provide us potential longterm solutions at multiple positions.

However, just because it should be on the table does not mean you move him for just any offer of a hitter or top prospects. It has to make sense, and this is where most of the proposals end.

The only problem with trading Ender in reality is it goes against everything Anthopoulos has been preaching to the choir thus far. Up to this point it’s been about improving the defense. Ridding of Kemp and replacing him with Acuna helped that tremendously. Taking Ender away from it to add a potential unknown or even just an average defender while shifting Acuna over to center negates part of that huge improvement and brings it back down to the level of just an average improvement on defense. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, but defense seems to be the name of AA’s game at the moment. But imagine we throw AA’s desire to improve the defense out the window and we’re okay with just that average improvement (afterall, it’s a pretty big improvement just to be average in left over Kemp’s negative ratings).

Some of the Ender trade proposals either make no sense for Atlanta….or they make no sense for the other club. As noted before, an Ender trade must make sense. For example….Ian Happ for Ender. I have my reservations about Happ as a hitter, but I do not doubt his power and his positional flexibility is quite valuable. I’d have to think long and hard about it, but that’s only considering the Braves’ perspective. Has anyone ever stopped to think how the Cubs would benefit from trading potentially their best bargaining chip?

Pump the brakes for a second and consider this. The Cubs have a young man named Albert Almora Jr. who is said to be quite the gifted defender in his own rights. Like Inciarte, he is a defense-first player who has enough abilities at the plate not to negate whatever defensive contributions he puts in. Sure….Inciarte is currently better than Almora Jr. and that is an improvement, but is it “best trading chip” Ian Happ type of worth? I don’t think so and Theo and Jed probably don’t think so either.

The Cubs have other issues. Replacing Jake Arrieta at the front of the rotation is one of them and Ian Happ would be a solid piece to build a stud package around to acquire one of the game’s top starters. This could lead into a discussion about Happ for Teheran, but that’s not the point here and a certain replier’s level of ADHD tangent to go off on, so that’s for another discussion another day in another blog post.

What it comes down to is if trading Ender is in the cards, it needs to be done, as I said, to either top off the rebuild in a big way….or to acquire the right piece. There aren’t many fits for that at the moment, but it’s not impossible.

Bryce S…the right time to trade Ender…will be in a few years IF Christian Pache develops his bat to go along with his outstanding defense/speed! If Pache is ready for MLB by 2020, then Inciarte will probably be traded (still an asset to bring a significant return, because he’ll only be owed $7 mil in 2020, $8 mil in 2021 and a team option of $9 mil in 2022…I can only imagine what salaries for Inciarte-type players would bring IF he was a Free Agent during those years!).

Until then, I dont see a team ‘blowing Atlanta away’ with a trade proposal for Inciarte before then. Inciarte’s remaining 5 year/$33 mil owed (if the $9 mil 2022 team option is exercised) is A HUGE BARGAIN for The Braves. Just in the next 2 years…Inciarte is only owed $4 mil in 2018 and $5 mil in 2019! Sick, lol! Seriously AA would have to be BLOWN AWAY to trade Inciarte! Happ for Inciarte (straight up)? FORGET IT! Maybe Happ AND Almonte, Jr? Maybe! Sure, Happ could develop into an All-Star hitter. ‘Could’….

I’m not trading Inciarte for any ‘could’ players! One thing that many of you on here are forgetting (while continuing to ridicule me for my proposed Machado, Harper and Kimbrel signings for The Braves during The 2018 Free Agent Offseason)…is that in addition to Inciarte being on a team friendly contract….Freddie Freeman is only making $21 mil in each of the next 4 years! Take away 2018 as the last rebuilding year…and that only leaves 3 seasons of Freeman at a relative ‘bargain’ price! It is IMPERATIVE that Braves Management take ADVANTAGE of not only Inciarte’s and Freeman’s contracts…BUT ALSO the HUGE INFLUX of cheap/young/cost controlled prospects that are set to FLOOD our roster the next few years! The 2018 Free Agent Offseason is where The Braves make their push to be serious playoff contenders (IF Albies and Acuna are the real deals..ALONG with the expected development of a number of our young pitching prospects).

Why make this Matt Kemp Trade…..IF AA isnt going to MAKE A HUGE Free Agent Push after The 2018 Season? What’s the point in freeing up 2019…IF Austin Riley is a lock to be given every opportunity to win the 3rd base job (negating Machado for many of you)…IF we’re not even going to try and make a push for Harper in Left?

If all we’re going to do…is wait for the likes of Riley, Jackson and Pache to make their way up to Atlanta….then by the time everyone develops/arrives…Freddie Freeman will be in line to get A HUGE RAISE after The 2021 Season (with no playoff success beforehand)!

TRad….true, but only if we are BLOWN AWAY with an offer. A ‘fair trade’ makes no sense for The Braves right now. It isnt like we are going to seriously compete for a playoff spot in 2018. If a team like Chicago really wants Inciarte…AA needs to make sure that they PAY DEARLY for it!

Inciarte will still have trade value in two years (while maybe not as much…however if he develops a little more power in the next two years, that could enhance his trade value). If Snitker does the right thing and bat Albies and Acuna at the top of the order…then Inciarte should be dropped down to #6-#7 (perhaps Inciarte will focus on driving the ball instead of getting mostly slap hits).

Paul

Win is a win. Give me Inciarte’s clone, shifted two years in time (I mean Inciarte’s 2018 season is transferred magically in to 2020 etc) – and I’d took it. It wouldn’t be “blown away proposal”, but more or less equal exchange.

Simply speaking: Inciarte’s 2018 season will be “wasted”, if he stays with Braves. Replacing it with something with equal value, but in 2019 or 2020 – would be beneficial for Braves.

Agreed, TRad. Inciarte’s skillset is one that diminishes quickly. Almost overnight in a lot of cases (see example: Michael Bourn going from a high point of 6 fWar to perennially under 2 and then out of the league within 5 years of being an Atlanta savior). It’s a situation definitely keeping an open door and mind to.

If not learn from a similar case study, at least learn the lessons taught by Jair Jurrjens, Jeff Francoeur and countless others. Not all players are franchise guys and as TRad said, it’s best to cash in early than have to trade for spare parts or have to release/nontender guys for nothing.

That said, as TRad and I both agree, that isn’t to say trading Ender is a must this winter. The door just needs to be left open to it for the right opportunity…and that “right opportunity” could easily fall into the Braves lap under the right circumstances at any time. Saying that opportunity, or the right time, to trade Ender is a specific amount of time in the future, with contingencies, no less, is rather foolish.

Influx of prospects? You mean pitching only, correct? There’s lack of positional depth in the prospect line on the farm. Especially after the penalty the Bravos had to pay due to Coppy’s cheating ways.

Josh…while most of our ‘influx’ of prospects are pitching…we do have Acuna coming in this year..along with Austin Riley in 2019 (if The Braves do not go after Machado in The 2018 Free Agent Offseason), Alex Jackson and Christian Pache (all highly touted position prospects).

Still, I agree that we dont have nearly the position player depth in The Minors that we have with pitching. However, by signing Machado and Harper next offseason…that would cover A LOT of that lack of positional depth!

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