Outside of their current five-game winning streak, the rebuilding year of 2016 has been awfully hard on the Atlanta Braves. What would make it sting a little less is finding legitimate trade value on the big-league roster – outside of Julio Teheran and Freddie Freeman, of course.
When Atlanta traded away Shelby Miller to the Arizona Diamondbacks for a king’s ransom over the winter, multiple teams immediately asked about Ender Inciarte. Not only was he a good outfielder with some speed and coming off a solid 2015 (.303/.338/.408, six homers, 45 RBI, 73 runs scored), one would assume he had no space in the Braves’ rebuild.
Those teams are probably right – it’s likely just a matter of time before Inciarte is traded away for more young talent. Him missing about a month with a hamstring injury and putting up a cumulative line of .234/.303/.317 through 167 at-bats this year probably doesn’t help his trade value very much, but it shouldn’t matter.
He showed exactly how valuable he is in the matter of just two innings during a weekend series against the New York Mets at Citi Field. He was a force throughout the three-game set, slashing .308/.357/.462 during the sweep, but it was what he did late on Saturday night that really caught my eye.
New York jumped out to a 3-0 lead after four innings, but Atlanta fought back after scoring a run in three consecutive frames from the fifth through the seventh. Then, Inciarte set the tone by leading off the eighth against set-up man Addison Reed with a hustle double to left field.
After an intentional walk to Freeman, Jeff Francoeur lined out to Curtis Granderson for the first out. Given the situation, not many expected Inciarte to be tagging up, including Grandy. He was caught off guard and paid for it since the Braves now had the go-ahead run on third base with just one out.
Following a strikeout to Nick Markakis, a pitch to Tyler Flowers got away from Rene Rivera, but not too far away. In fact, it didn’t even leave the dirt behind home plate, but that didn’t stop Inciarte from anticipating the pitch and being aggressive. Once again, he capitalized on catching the Mets off guard, swiping home to give the Braves a 4-3 lead.
Atlanta was clinging to that one-run lead in the bottom of the ninth, and it appeared they’d be coughing it up momentarily. Wilmer Flores reached base because of a fielding error by Erick Aybar, which was immediately followed by James Loney splitting the outfielders with a double to left-center field.
With nobody out, was third-base coach Tim Teufel a little too aggressive by waving Flores home all the way from first base? Absolutely, but the Mets have also been horrendous when it comes to runners in scoring position – their .628 OPS as a team is dead last in MLB – so you can see why he went for it. Plus, it would’ve taken a near-perfect relay from the outfield wall to home plate in order to nab Flores.
Fortunately for the Braves, that’s exactly what happened:
That effectively took the wind out of New York’s sails. For Mets fans, it’s easy to blame Teufel for sending Flores or to blame Flores himself for running out of gas after rounding third. However, dismissing the show Inciarte put on over the last couple innings would be doing him a disservice, and one lucky team will be able to take advantage of his skills soon enough.
While it’s still early with regard to our proximity to the non-waiver MLB trade deadline, there’s plenty of chatter around teams in need of a boost, along with potentially available players. The market (outside of relief pitchers) isn’t going to be a flush as in recent years, so it’s important to overturn every rock to find a difference maker.
Sometimes, the difference maker will be one of the most talked about players, but lots of times, they’re not. There will be big names tossed around on a daily basis from now until August 1, like Ryan Braun, Jay Bruce and Carlos Gonzalez. There will also be less popular names who could make just as big of an impact while being much more attainable via trade.
Inciarte falls into that category. With the Braves fighting for baseball’s worst record on a nightly basis, anything goes with regard to acquiring more young talent. For contending teams in need of outfield help, this guy should still be on their respective lists. He’s got a good bat, speed on the bases, experience at all three outfield positions and does all the little things to help his team win.
At just 25 years old, Inciarte isn’t even arbitration-eligible yet and he wont reach free agency until 2021. There’s a reason why so many teams checked in with the Braves about him last winter. He won’t be one of the biggest names we hear about over the next month and a half, but he could make one of the biggest impacts.
He’s young, talented, plays the game hard and plays it the right way. Every team wants that kind of player, and it should only be a matter of time before Inciarte brings his style and mentality to a contender that really needs it.