You knew it was a great trade from the moment its details were leaked. Here’s how good it has turned out to be: Even if you take out Dansby Swanson, who was the Diamondbacks’ No. 1 prospect and the No. 1 player drafted six months earlier, and Aaron Blair, who was the Diamondbacks’ No. 3 prospect and a Round 1 pick in 2013, it was still a windfall. Ender Inciarte, the Braves’ representative in Tuesday’s All-Star Game, makes it so.
Going by Baseball-Reference’s WAR, Inciarte has a value of 14.8 over the past 3 ½ seasons. Justin Upton, former Brave and current Tiger, has a value of 12.5 over that span, and he made the All-Star team this year and in 2015. (No, Inciarte and Upton aren’t at all alike as players. That’s why WAR is useful.)
Oh, and there’s this: Upton makes $22.125 million this season; Inciarte is due to earn $26.8 million over the next four seasons. As deft as Inciarte/Swanson/Blair-for-poor-Shelby-Miller was, the contract extension the Braves bestowed on Inciarte last winter was just as shrewd. The Braves hold the option to keep him for the 2022 season at $9 million, at which time he’ll be 31. This for a Gold Glove center fielder who, not incidentally, is on pace for 204 hits.
Every summer, Dave Cameron of FanGraphs lists the top 50 MLB players in terms of trade value. Inciarte is No. 39, owing in equal measure to his projected performance and the money he’s due. Via Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections, Inciarte is valued at a WAR of 3.7, 3.5, 3.4, 3.4 and 3.3 through the end of his contract, option year included. That’s not Trout territory, but it’s very good.
Miami’s Christian Yelich is of a similar age (25) and also plays center field. He ranks 27th on Cameron’s list. His contract likewise runs through 2021 with a team option for 2022. If the Marlins (or whatever team he’s traded to) exercise that option, he’ll make $58.25 million over the next five seasons. ZiPS projects his aggregate WAR value at 17.3. Should the Braves exercise Inciarte’s option, he’ll make $35.8 million over those five years; his ZiPS projection is … why, 17.3.
If you’re a fan, this rebuild hasn’t been easy to stomach. What the Braves have done with Inciarte – first in acquiring him, then in keeping him long-term – should help ease any agita. They got a major asset in a trade so lopsided it cost Dave Stewart and Tony La Russa their front-office jobs in Phoenix. They secured Inciarte’s services for much less than a team in their division is paying a center fielder of comparable worth over the exact same span. This front office knows what it’s doing. Trust the process.