Ender Inciarte Is Staying in Atlanta a Little Longer

The pieces are starting to come together for the rebuilding Braves. Though they’ve spent their winter stocking up on veteran starting pitchers and piratey-looking utilitymen, it’s been a winter spent with an eye looking to the future. None of the players whom Atlanta has added are standing firmly in the way of a young prospect, and they all make the team just a little bit better for their debut at their new taxpayer-funded stadium.

The extension of Ender Inciarte is a different matter. This isn’t a move that allows the future to happen, it’s one that shows what the future is going to look like. Inciarte has been given $30.525 million to stick around for an extra two years, and the Braves hold a $9 million option for an additional year after that. If that sounds cheap for a young, three-win center fielder, it’s because it is. Here’s how the deal breaks down.

Inciarte Extension Breakdown
Year Age Earnings (Millions)
2016 (Signing Bonus) 25 $3.5
2017 26 $2
2018 27 $4
2019 28 $5
2020 29 $7
2021 30 $8
2022 (Club Option) 31 $9, $1.025 Buyout

MLB Trade Rumors’ arbitration projections pegged Inciarte to earn $2.8 million this offseason, and assuming he’d been his usual productive self this year, he would’ve gotten a good raise next winter. Still, this seems like a real steal. Even if you assume Inciarte will record only the 2.4 wins for which Steamer projects him in 2017 and also assume that wins are going for $8 million a piece this offseason (when $8.5 million is more likely), it’s still likely that Inciarte will produce more than $100 million in on-field value over the next five years.

Ender Inciarte’s Contract Estimate — 5 yr / $115.1 M
Year Age WAR $/WAR Est. Contract
2017 26 2.4 $8.0 M $19.2 M
2018 27 2.6 $8.4 M $22.3 M
2019 28 2.6 $8.8 M $23.4 M
2020 29 2.6 $9.3 M $24.5 M
2021 30 2.6 $9.7 M $25.8 M
Totals 13.0 $115.1 M

Assumptions

Value: $8M/WAR with 5.0% inflation (for first 5 years)
Aging Curve: +0.25 WAR/yr (18-27), 0 WAR/yr (28-30),-0.5 WAR/yr (31-37),-0.75 WAR/yr (> 37)

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.

The deal is quite similar to the one just signed by Odubel Herrera. The Phillies extended Herrera for five years and gave him $30.5 million, with two options tacked on at the end. One can argue that Herrera is a bit more valuable than Inciarte due to his above-average offense, and WAR backs that up. Herrera’s extension only guarantees one extra year of control in contrast to the two extra years for which the Braves get Inciarte. Nonetheless, it’s interesting to see both NL East clubs locking in control of their young center fielders for the foreseeable future as both teams aim to start winning.

Inciarte was the lone remaining core Braves player whose financial future remain undetermined, following the extensions that Freddie Freeman and Julio Teheran have already signed. It’s tempting to throw Dansby Swanson into that category too, but he’s been in the big leagues for a relative millisecond and is unlikely to be an extension candidate until he approaches salary arbitration in a few years. The rest of the team is made up of tweeners and salaried veterans like Matt Kemp and Nick Markakis. The Braves are going to replacing most of those guys over the next few years. In Inciarte, they’ve made a firm commitment and identified a major building block.

Unless, of course, they trade him.

The Braves are known to be seeking an ace. They were in the Chris Sale discussion, and will likely continue to be interested in adding a front-line starter in the near future. Inciarte’s extension makes him an even more valuable trade chip due his assured low cost for years to come. Given the Braves’ demonstrated creativity in their team-building (the Kemp trade, going after Sale this early in the rebuilding process), it wouldn’t be surprising to see them flip Inciarte at some point as part of an effort to acquire impact big-league talent. Atlanta has a blue-chip outfield prospect in Ronald Acuna who could be ready at some point in the next two years, and he looks like he may end up having more of a bat than Inciarte currently has. It’s foolhardy to assume that Acuna is a sure thing, since prospects have a habit of breaking your heart, but I wouldn’t rush to assume that Inciarte is going to be off the table in trade discussions.

Regardless, Atlanta made a very good move here. Inciarte is a good talent, and this seems to be the going rate for good young NL East center fielders. One wonders if it would have been prudent of him to wait out for more money, but you can’t fault Inciarte for taking the money now. That $30 million bucks is still $30 million bucks. It’s also quite a steal for the Braves.

We hoped you liked reading Ender Inciarte Is Staying in Atlanta a Little Longer by Nicolas Stellini!

Please support FanGraphs by becoming a member. We publish thousands of articles a year, host multiple podcasts, and have an ever growing database of baseball stats.

FanGraphs does not have a paywall. With your membership, we can continue to offer the content you've come to rely on and add to our unique baseball coverage.

Support FanGraphs




Nick is a columnist at FanGraphs, and has written previously for Baseball Prospectus and Beyond the Box Score. Yes, he hates your favorite team, just like Joe Buck. You can follow him on Twitter at @StelliniTweets, and can contact him at stellinin1 at gmail.

newest oldest most voted
Mike NMN
Member
Mike NMN

It’s a very good deal for Atlanta, but it’s a safe deal for Inciarte. This is a player who depends on good health and his wheels for his value, and things happen. If he suffered a Kendy Morales injury, he’s not getting Kendry Morales money. He’s set himself up to never have to worry about money again, and there’s something to that beyond looking for top dollar. Hard to argue with that.

frangipard
Member
frangipard

“This is a player who depends on good health and his wheels for his value, and things happen.”

Exactly so, and why I think this deal is not quite as good for the Braves as the article suggests. It’s still very good, but if/when Inciarte loses a step of speed due to injury or age, his entire game starts to fall apart. About half of the top comps on bbref are speed guys that basically were done by age 29 or so.

fredsbank
Member
fredsbank

Well don’t be worried about the owner losing too much money, the contract only guarantees through age 30.

mikeq672
Member
mikeq672

Are there players that dont depend on their health? Is there like a secret group of cyborg baseball players that cant get injured that I dont know about?

frangipard
Member
frangipard

All players can get hurt; but all players are not equally vulnerable to injury. Players with more diverse skillsets are less vulnerable to having one of them impaired.

If Kris Bryant blows out his elbow and his throwing arm is never the same, he can move to LF. If he loses his speed to injury, he can move to 1B. If he has a nagging wrist injury that saps his power, he can still hit .300. For a more relevant comp, Herrera is similar to Inciarte value-wise, but could lose his speed and still have a plus hit tool and line-drive power.

Inciarte doesn’t have any power, his BB% is pedestrian, and his arm is just average. He has one plus tool. If an injury takes him (temporarily or permanently) from a 70 to a 60 runner, he’s a totally different player.

Azizal
Member
Member
Azizal

You are underrating his arm. He was 3rd among OF’s in assists last year and was 5th in ARM rating. He didn’t win the Gold Glove this year on range alone. Also, the eye test makes this very clear.

HarryLives
Member
HarryLives

When has Kris Bryant ever hit .300? Inciarte’s arm is +17 according to UZR and +20 according to DRS for his career, so what in the hell are you talking about?

John Autin
Member
Member
John Autin

What is your evidence that players with skillsets like Inciarte are more vulnerable to decline? Some things that sounds reasonable aren’t really true.

Speed actually tends to age better than most people think.

I took the top 100 OFs by total bWAR over age 23-25, from 1946-2013. The median bWAR was 12.7, which happens to be Inciarte’s exact total for those 3 years.

I sorted them by WAR baserunning runs, split off the top and bottom quartiles, and ran their totals for age 26-28. Each group retained just under 92% of its baseline WAR.

Then I did the same exercise, but sorted by percentage of total bWAR acquired from fielding+baserunning. Here, the top quartile retained more of its baseline WAR than the bottom quartile, 97% to 91%.

Young players with speed and defense may reach the majors before they’re fully developed as hitters, so their hitting often improves in their mid-20s. In the latter study, the “speed-and-defense” group improved from a baseline 115 OPS+ to 120 over age 26-28, while the opposite group fell from 136 to 133 OPS+.

As you noted, Inciarte has no power now — but if he gains some, which is hardly unusual in the mid-20s, that’s all gravy to his value.

Mike NMN
Member
Mike NMN

John A, you should post your research (or reach out to the Fangraphs folks so they post it)–I’d be interested in it. I don’t think your comment was meant for me, but I’m not positive. I wasn’t intending to imply that Incairte cannot develop as a hitter and add other skills, like power, that could give him more value later in his career. What I was saying it that the choice by him and his agent to take the sure money now is rational given that an early career injury might sap the value he already adds, before he develops more fully as a hitter.

John Autin
Member
Member
John Autin

Hi, Mike NMN — I replied to frangipard’s claim that “Players with more diverse skillsets are less vulnerable to having one of them impaired.”

John Autin
Member
Member
John Autin

Mike NMN, you can see my baseline group as a saved Play Index search on B-R:
http://www.baseball-reference.com/play-index/share.cgi?id=ouWfU

Then it’s just a P-I on that group for age 26-28, and some Excel work. I’m not tech-savvy enough to post my Excel sheets. 🙂

Mike NMN
Member
Mike NMN

Thanks for the link. That Mantle fellow was pretty good. Interesting that #13, Grady Sizemore, basically had his career destroyed by injury shortly thereafter.

Johnston
Member
Johnston

There are players who get hurt far less than average. The ability to consistently avoid injury is considered a skill in itself by some teams.