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.