As you all know, the Braves recently gave us all a lovely Christmas gift by signing Ender Inciarte to a five-year contract extension. It’s definitely nice to know that the Braves will have an elite defender in center field for the foreseeable future, but Inciarte’s performance with the bat (particularly in the second half of the season) is what convinced Coppy and Co. to make sure that Inciarte would stay with the Braves for the next few years.
Since the start of the 2015 season, Inciarte leads all National League outfielders with 44 Defensive Runs Saved. His 6.8 fWAR over the same period also ranks eighth within that group, and he was honored with his first Gold Glove Award in November. But the Braves' willingness to make this commitment was significantly influenced by the offensive strides Inciarte made over the second half of his first season in Atlanta.
The only NL outfielder to produce a better fWAR than Inciarte (3.2) after this year's All-Star break was NL MVP Kris Bryant (3.5). After missing most of the 2016 season's first month with a hamstring injury, Inciarte entered the All-Star break hitting just .227 with a .294 on-base percentage. But his production erupted after he reclaimed the leadoff role in early August, and he ended up hitting .341 with a .396 on-base percentage after the break.
Nicolas Stellini of Fangraphs recently gave his take on the Inciarte signing, and he seemed impressed with the Braves as they managed to get Inciarte to sign for a relatively cheap price of $30 million. Granted, that’s still a boatload of money for any human being, but for the Braves, it’s a very frugal and smart deal.
As you can see, this deal saves the Braves a lot of money in the long run, and it gives Inciarte some immediate financial security. Atlanta will now have more money with which to play in free agency and in acquiring players in trades as they look to morph into a contending club.
However, once again, it’s striking by how cheap this contract is. Let’s talk about Ender Inciarte for a bit, shall we? Inciarte doesn’t offer more than a league-average bat, and he’s been a hair below average over the course of his career. He is, however, a brilliant defensive outfielder. UZR and DRS are fond of him in all three positions. He’s exceeded 15 steals in every season since his debut run the bases well overall. He’s only just turned 26, too, so we probably haven’t seen his peak yet. Inciarte isn’t a game-changing talent, but you can do far worse for a center fielder. He’s worth having around, and the Braves are going to have him around for a low cost, and for at least two years longer than originally planned.
We’re staying in the land of Fangraphs with this next link, which has to do with giving us a tad bit of what to expect in 2017. According to the ZiPS projections, the Braves (as currently constructed) figure to be slightly better than they were last year. As far as the individual player comparisons go, I’m just glad that Freddie Freeman no longer has Kent Hrbek as a comparison. Let’s leave the wounds of 1991 in 1991, shall we?
Despite the fact that it seems like Andrew McCutchen probably won’t be traded this offseason, there are still rumors linking him to other teams. The latest team to get involved is the Toronto Blue Jays. However, the crew over at Bucs Dugout doesn’t think that the Jays have the assets to pull off a deal.
Maybe a great offer for McCutchen would change their thinking. They’ve seemingly changed their minds once, and perhaps they could do so again. But I don’t think the Jays are likely to make a great offer. Their farm system isn’t horrible, but it isn’t great, partially because previous GM Alex Anthopoulos made a number of win-now trades before departing. Now their best prospects are guys like Richard Urena and Sean Reid-Foley, who are both perfectly good but don’t look like they could headline a blockbuster deal.
Free agent outfielder Jose Bautista figured to be in high demand among AL teams this winter, but it appears like he’ll be going into the new year without a new team. As such, Bautista’s camp has reportedly changed their expectations and would now consider a one-year deal. Jeff Passan says that Bautista would take a one-year deal if it was above the qualifying offer, so we’ll see what happens going forward.