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Cincinnati Reds trade target - Atlanta Braves OF Ender Inciarte

He’s injured and underperforming...perfect!

Atlanta Braves v Miami Marlins Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Ender Inciarte is hitting .218/.300/.323 so far this season, and the Atlanta Braves CF is also on the injured list. So, naturally I’m here banging the drum that he’s a player who’s at least worth considering as a Cincinnati Reds trade target, because of course I am.

Let’s preface things by saying this - the One True MLB Trade Deadline is just two weeks away, and while it’s pretty clear that we don’t have any real idea what the Reds are going to do before it, it’s also pretty clear that nobody really knows what most every team in baseball is going to do. In the National League particularly, there’s such a jumble in the standings that the next 10-12 games could determine the paths for a dozen teams, the Reds particularly included.

The Atlanta Braves, though, sure do look like buyers, as their 58-37 record has them atop the NL East standings. So why the heck would they move their 3-time Gold Glove winning CF?

I know it’s hard for most Reds fans - present company included - to comprehend just how rich the Atlanta farm system is, but it’s as deep as any in baseball. And the depth isn’t even the important part here - that’s the top-tier talent it possesses. The Atlanta OF already has seen Ronald Acuna and Austin Riley emerge from their consensus Top 25 prospect status to take over spots in their current OF, and the ageless Nick Markakis has continued to rake into his age 35 season. Even Matt Joyce is around and mashing for them, too, and that doesn’t even take into account that they have another pair of Top 50 prospects mashing the heck out of the ball in the minors in Christian Pache and Drew Waters.

That’s quite the logjam, especially when you consider the Braves penchant for promoting players earlier and younger than most every team in the game. It’s enough to have MLB Trade Rumors running a poll to determine what the heck Atlanta should do when Inciarte, 28, returns from his IL stint later this week.

The thing is, the Reds have shown public interest in Inciarte before. Just last winter the two were connected prior to the Reds trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers that brought in Yasiel Puig. Obviously, Inciarte’s slow start and core injury this year have likely dented their willingness to throw the moon Atlanta’s way, but it’s hard to deny what Inciarte, at his best, brings to the table if he can recapture that form.

In the 5 seasons prior to 2019, he hit .289/.337/.390 between Arizona and Atlanta, all while playing great enough CF defense to continually deny Billy Hamilton of a single Gold Glove. He racked up an impressive 18.7 bWAR in that time, too, as well as a contract extension that has him potentially under team control for 3 seasons after 2019 for a grand total of $25.5 million - hardly a dent in any team’s budget for a player of that caliber should he return to anywhere close to the form he’s shown in previous years.

The question is for these Reds, though, one much like one Atlanta is facing, namely where would Inciarte fit in? Beyond 2019 that answer is rather obvious, as the Reds currently have an army of would-be free agents after this season. Inciarte in CF would allow Nick Senzel to take over at 2B going forward, something the team will need if Scooter Gennett walks in free agency. An OF featuring Jesse Winker and Inciarte would be a solid start, and given how cheap Inciarte is in the grand scheme of things might even allow the Reds enough payroll flexibility to pursue keeping Puig long-term to flank them in RF.

As for 2019, well...there’s that uncertainty again. The idea that the Reds could be both buyers and sellers at the deadline is certainly a well-founded one, being opportunistic with their assets - especially with the pending return of Alex Wood to the starting rotation. Maybe they sell-high on Derek Dietrich and Inciarte becomes part of a 4-man OF rotation. Maybe it’s Scooter Gennett that they trade, and the move of Senzel back to the IF becomes an immediate thing. Maybe the Reds cash-in on Puig’s white hot run at the plate, land a stud prospect in return for him, and plug Inciarte into the OF alongside a mix of Winker, Senzel, Phil Ervin, and Derek Dietrich. Or maybe, just maybe, this is the kind of trade that makes a ton more sense to pursue again next winter and I’ve wasted everyone’s time here - mine, yours, your cousin Earl’s, everyone.

Regardless, it sure seems like the Braves might be considering a move of Inciarte given their glut, and the Reds have sure shown interest in him before. And given how many times these two teams have linked up in deals in recent years - the Brandon Phillips deal, the Adam Duvall trade - it’s clear they’ve got each other’s number.