The front office’s level of interest in Ender Inciarte is unclear at this point, but reports seem to increase on a daily basis linking him to the Cubs.
It’s been reported the Cubs talked to the Diamondbacks about OF Ender Inciarte before he was dealt from Arizona to Atlanta in the Shelby Miller haul. The Cubs were, and still are, exploring ways to acquire a centerfielder to replace Dexter Fowler. And the Cubs are believed to be one of at least a dozen teams to contact the Braves about Inciarte once the trade with the Diamondbacks was completed.
Jerry Crasnick provided an update Tuesday on Inciarte. The Braves “have received a steady stream of inquires” on him since the Winter Meetings. John Coppolella would “prefer to keep Inciarte as the centerfielder and leadoff man, but they’re open to listening on any player not named Freddie Freeman.”
According to Bruce Levine, since the Cubs agreed to terms with Jason Heyward there has been increased speculation that the front office could trade Jorge Soler to the Braves in a deal that would include Ender Inciarte.
Inciarte is coming off a very good season offensively for the Diamondbacks. The 25-year old left-handed hitting outfielder put together a .303/.338/.408 line with 27 doubles, five triples and six home runs for a .747 OPS. Inciarte lined up right field more than center last year because of A.J. Pollock. And over his two seasons in the majors, his playing time in the three outfield spots has been pretty evenly distributed.
Levine pointed out the subtraction of Soler and the addition of Inciarte could make the Cubs’ lineup too left-handed. And Inciarte has struggled against southpaws at the Major League level. Inciarte batted .227/.253/.277 versus lefties last season and owns a .249/.288/.297 slash line in 124 games, 269 at bats. Inciarte hit .332/.369/.457 against right handed pitchers a year ago.
One of the areas the front office wanted to address this winter is for the team to make more contact and cut down on the strikeouts. Inciarte walked 26 times with 58 strikeouts last season in 524 at bats. Inciarte has 275 hits with 51 walks and 111 strikeouts in 1,008 plate appearances in his brief two-year career.
Defensively, Inciarte would be an upgrade in center from Dexter Fowler and Jason Heyward. A scout Levine talked to graded Inciarte’s defense as a 65 on the 20-80 scale. Inciarte has an “awesome throwing arm with a quicker release than Soler” the scout said, “For me, Inciarte and Heyward would save 100 runs (over the course of the season) between them.”
David Schoenfield pointed out after the news surfaced that Heyward signed with the Cubs, “Much of Heyward’s value over the years has been his defense in right field. While he can certainly handle center field … he has started 30 games there in his career … he’s probably not going to save 20 to 30 runs like he does in right. Considering Soler and Schwarber are both below-average defenders, the Cubs may want to keep Heyward in right and find another centerfielder.” Schoenfield asked if a Soler for Inciarte deal would fill the Cubs need for a centerfielder and improve the team’s defense.
As previously reported, the Cubs are not forced to make a move to acquire a centerfielder. And Jorge Soler’s value was not diminished by signing Jason Heyward. The Cubs do not have to trade Soler because Heyward’s versatility would allow the Cubs to begin the season with an outfield of Kyle Schwarber, Heyward and Soler.
If the rumors and numerous reports are correct the conversations the front office is having with other teams for a centerfielder and a young, controllable pitcher includes Jorge Soler.
It will be interesting to see how the front office rounds out the roster over the next month leading up to the Convention.