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Atlanta has a decision to make on newly-acquired Ender Inciarte

The Braves may be tempted to move Ender Inciarte even before he takes the field for them in spring training.

The Braves have a dilemma. Well, maybe dilemma isn’t the correct word. That implies it’s a problem. This is a good problem to have, but it doesn’t diminish the intrigue of the decision they have to make.

Last week the Braves acquired Ender Inciarte from the Diamondbacks in the Shelby Miller blockbuster. Inciarte was the only major leaguer, but considering the potential of Dansby Swanson and Aaron Blair, he was thought of as the third piece in the return from Arizona.

Swanson may be the face of the franchise in another year, while Blair might be another version of Miller. Inciarte is a 25-year-old, left-handed hitting outfielder who, upon further examination, is a pretty good baseball player.

He’s not A.J. Pollock, who is the main player the Braves originally wanted in the trade talks. But the tradeoff of accepting Inciarte with Swanson and Blair instead of, say Pollock and just Blair is a good one. The Braves are finding the value in those three players is much higher than if Pollock was in the trade.

Inciarte is under control for five more years. He’s a very good defensive outfielder. He’s a career .292 hitter in his two big league seasons, and last year Inciarte hit .303. He doesn’t have much power, hitting only 10 home runs in 1008 plate appearances. But Inciarte has averaged 20 stolen bases in his two seasons.

So he’s a slap hitter with speed and good defense. There are many teams that might value that type of player, and if one of those teams could offer the Braves something they might need more than an Inciarte-type player, we might have the makings of a deal.

The Cubs have been mentioned as the most likely candidate, even though it’s been rumored as many as 12 teams have contacted the Braves about Inciarte. Chicago just signed Jason Heyward, so do they put Heyward in center field and keep Jorge Soler, a power-hitting outfielder? Or do the Cubs prefer a player like Inciarte and trade Soler for him, keeping Heyward in right?

That’s Chicago’s dilemma. Atlanta’s situation is simple. They like Inciarte, and it’s obvious by the interest that he has value. But with Mallex Smith slated to go back to Triple-A Gwinnett, do the Braves really need Inciarte, or would they be better off gambling that Michael Bourn can hold down the position until Smith is ready sometime next summer?

If the Braves got Soler, they’d have a surplus in the outfield. Wait, they already have a surplus in the outfielder with Bourn, Inciarte, Nick Swisher and Nick Markakis. Plus, the Braves would like for Hector Olivera to play in left field next season.

Would the Braves trade Markakis? There’s been talk the Orioles and Royals may have interest. But the Braves do believe Markakis’ value as a leader in the clubhouse will be significant with all the young players.

They’d like to trade Bourn and Swisher, but if they traded Inciarte, the Braves would need Bourn until Smith was ready.

And Smith is the issue here, really more than anything. Are the Braves convinced he’s the future player for center field? If so, they could trade Inciarte for something more they would need. If they keep Inciarte and Smith gets ready, then what?

Well, that’s the other option. The Braves could hold onto Inciarte and then when Smith showed he was ready the Braves could then trade Inciarte later in the summer. Inciarte should still have pretty decent value.

But is Inciate’s value at a peak? Will he maintain that value during this upcoming season, or will it diminish since he will likely be on a mediocre/bad team?

The Braves are probably taking the same approach they took in the Miller trade discussions. They didn’t have to trade Miller, but hoped a team would overpay. The Diamondbacks did, so the Braves would have been stupid to not make that trade once they placed Swanson in the proposal.

What do the Braves think about Soler? He’ll be 24 in February and Soler is already signed through 2020 for a combined $21,333,335. That’s an average of $4.26 per season for five years. That’s a very affordable player. Would Soler be worth that? Well, that would be tempting to put with Olivera, who will be paid an average of $6.5 million per season through the next five years.

So if Soler and Olivera were solid offensive players, that would be two big pieces of your lineup tied up for the next five years at an average combined price of $10.76 per season. That’s not bad in today’s baseball economy.

Is a trade of Inciarte-for-Soler straight up fair, or could the Braves get more from the Cubs since the value for Inciarte seems at a peak level? Well, knowing how the Braves have made out in trades, it’s easy to believe the Braves might be holding out for more than just Soler in any trade talks with the Cubs.

But here’s another wrinkle. What if the Cubs also wanted Julio Teheran? That’s been rumored before, and it would be logical for the Cubs to perhaps propose something in a potential blockbuster trade for both Teheran and Inciarte.

The Braves would likely want Soler, and with the Cubs having a number of solid position player prospects, they would probably want to instantly improve their depth in the field with another monster trade.

For instance, would the Braves tell the Cubs they could have Inciarte and Teheran for Soler, shortstop Gleyber Torres and Willson Contreras, a prospect that plays third base and can catch? Baseball America recently rated Torres and Contreras as Chicago’s top two prospects.

That would be hard for the Braves to turn down, but if the Cubs are going for it, they may be tempted to pull the trigger on that trade like that.

The decision on Inciarte is all going to depend on what the Braves can get for him in return. They don’t have to trade him. Don’t you wish we knew what was being offered for Inciarte? We’d know then how likely it is for him to be traded. But considering how the Braves have been so tough to hold out for what they want, if they do trade Inciarte chances are it will be for a great return.

That’s called leverage.

It would also be interesting to see if the Braves do spin Inciarte how that will make the Miller-to-Arizona trade look upon further review, and consequently the Heyward-to-St. Louis deal from last year, as well.

If the Braves do hold onto Inciarte, they may simply have a pretty good position player. Some believe Inciarte could be the second-best (and valuable) player in the lineup behind Freddie Freeman if he stays.

The Braves have a decision to make. It may simply be to hold onto Inciarte, and if Smith proves he’s ready then that call could then be made later. But either way, the Braves seem to be sitting in the catbird seat once again.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.


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