When you think of some of core players of our future, you think of Ronald Acuna Jr, Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, a bulk of the pitchers, and maybe even Dansby Swanson. But Ender Inciarte is about as core to the rebuild as some of the previously-mentioned players. When Shelby Miller was traded, it wasn’t just that we took back a #1 pick or an interesting pitching prospect. We took back, at the time, a young, cost-controlled player who had just come off a 3.2 fWAR season. The Diamondbacks had AJ Pollock, so they weren’t necessarily going to miss Ender Inciarte, and the focus was on Dansby Swanson anyway.
And part of that reason was that there was some risk with Inciarte. He doesn’t necessarily have an elite tool. He doesn’t have an elite arm, range, power, hit, or speed tool. He’s not going to steal 40 bases or hit even 20 home runs. He isn’t necessarily considered a guy who can run down anything in centerfield, or stop runners all over the diamond the way Vladimir Guerrero or Jose Guillen or Roberto Clemente did. He probably will never win a batting title either. But he is an advanced metrician’s dream. For relative pennies, he’s produced some very valuable seasons for the D-Backs and Braves. He was the 52nd-most valuable position player in baseball in 2016, though he slipped to 63rd this past season.
Perhaps he’s a little miscast as our lead-off hitter. He possesses a .350 OBP as a Brave, but he’s not the burner you’d like to see for someone with such little power (he stole 22 bases in 31 chances; not the success rate you need). And while his power spiked a little bit last year (11 home runs), he is still just simply league average at the plate (100 wRC+). He’s still young — he turned 27 this year — so there’s the potential he might have something of a peak in his future. But with his skill set, he doesn’t have much room athletically before he falls behind the pack. Losing a step on defense or at the plate could prove catastrophic for his value. But at the end of the day, he provides very solid production currently for his modest contract. He signed a 5-year, $30.5M deal last offseason, so he’s got 4 years left where he’ll make $4M this year, $5M the next, and then $7M and $8M respectively in 2020 and 2021. So as long as he doesn’t fall off a cliff, he should continue to provide surplus value.
He enters 2018 as something of a team leader. He’s seen as a quiet, positive leader, and for this squad, he’s a seasoned veteran. His backup will be whoever wins out the back-up outfielder jobs in Spring Training, and with Acuna Jr. being a centerfielder, Inciarte’s job could be sought after at some point. But as of now, the Braves have an above-average centerfielder who might have a little more value in him as he enters his peak.