Cleat Geeks

Why the Inciarte Trade Benefits the D-backs

inciarteOutfieldUnless you are a real die-hard fan, you may not have had any idea who Diamondbacks outfielder Ender Inciarte was entering 2013, nor did you believe that he would be playing everyday for the major-league team as soon as the following season. After all, Inciarte had been through a whirlwind journey: he signed with the Diamondbacks as an international free agent in 2008 only to languish in the lower levels of Arizona’s minor league system for four seasons; was selected by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 2012 Rule Five Draft and made their Opening Day roster out of spring training on April 2, 2013, but was designated for assignment after one game in which he didn’t appear; and landed with the Diamondbacks for a second time just two days later. He spent the remainder of the 2013 season with the Mobile BayBears, the Diamondbacks AA affiliate, where he hit .281, stole 43 bases, and made the All-Star team, earning him on a spot on the Diamondbacks 40-man roster and an eventual permanent promotion to the majors in May of 2014. Thanks to numerous injuries, trades, and the worst record in the league, Inciarte played in 118 games in 2014 and put up a respectable .278/.318/.359 batting line with 116 hits and 19 stolen bases. Last season, he emerged as one of the most important contributors in the Diamondbacks lineup, hitting .303, stealing 21 bases, doubling 27 times, and amassing 159 hits primarily out of the leadoff spot. If not for a strained hamstring that cost him a month between June 16th and July 17th, Inciarte’s season could have been even better.

MillerinAZAs you can imagine, there was considerable backlash when the Diamondbacks decided to ship Inciarte to the rebuilding Atlanta Braves on December 9th, 2015, in exchange for right-handed pitcher Shelby Miller. Miller had put together a strong 2015 season of his own, breaking the 200 innings mark for the first time, striking out 171 batters, and registering a 3.02 earned run average despite losing 17 of his 23 decisions. Miller looked like a perfect compliment to blockbuster free agent acquisition Zack Greinke atop the Diamondbacks rotation, but the trade received just critcism because Miller is only under team control until for three seasons while Inciarte is controlled for five more seasons, there is a question as to whether Miller is a legitimate #2 starter (which the Diamondbacks are hoping for) or is more of a #3 or #4, and the Diamondbacks gave up a lot of quality prospects in the deal. Arizona dealt their #1 draft pick from 2015 – shortstop Dansby Swason – with Inciarte, which is notable because the team had surrendered its top pick from a year prior – pitcher 19-year-old Touki Toussiant – to the same Braves team in June in order to dump the $10 million salary of veteran starting pitcher Bronson Arroyo, who was in the middle of rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. Pitcher Aaron Blair, the Diamondbacks second-rated prospect after Swanson, was also traded for Miller, and the team had to give up the #13 pick in the 2016 draft in order to sign Greinke, which means Arizona had gotten rid of three of its top ten prospects and another first-rounder in the span of approximately 18 months for effectively a 32-year-old ace pitcher and a good, but not necessarily great, starter. The Diamondbacks were capitalizing on the strides they had made in 2015 by dangerously going all in and trying to win now.

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In the end, I believe that trading Inciarte will benefit the Diamondbacks for several reasons.

1) Inciarte and Miller are both the same age (25 years old) and Miller has already had three full seasons at the major-league level with an ERA of 3.50 or less, so one can only imagine how well he can perform once he hits his prime years. Miller also won 15 games with a 3.06 ERA in his rookie season of 2013 with the Cardinals.

2) The Diamondbacks finished 2015 eighth in all of baseball in runs scored, so they have plenty of bats to spare without Inciarte and their offense isn’t going to suffer much anyway as long as Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock remain apart of it.GoldschmidtBatting

3) The Diamondbacks pitching – and especially their rotation – has been a glaring weakness for many seasons and needed multiple upgrades. Arizona probably has a winning record last season and might have even made the playoffs if not for a staff ERA of 4.04 (15th in baseball) and a rotation ERA of 4.37 (eighth-worst in baseball). The Greinke-Miller duo gives the Diamondbacks their best 1-2 punch since the days of Brandon Webb and Dan Haren and Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling. Factor in that former ace Patrick Corbin had a successful return from Tommy John surgery and burgeoning 24-year-old Robbie Ray and the Diamondbacks might have their deepest and best rotation ever.

4) The Diamondbacks already had plenty of outfielders and none of them are old. Pollock and left fielder David Peralta are both 28, Cuban import Yasmany Tomas is only 25, and prospect Socrates Brito is 23.

5) Brito hit .303 with three doubles in a 33 game stint with the Diamondbacks in September of 2015 and is basically the same type of player as Inciarte.Socrates+Brito+Arizona+Diamondbacks

6) 25-year-old power hitter Peter O’Brien (4 for 10 with one HR and three RBIs in September of 2015) can play in the outfield, although he likely wouldn’t be as full-time as the other four guys.

7) Tomas was signed for $68 million out of Cuba before the 2015 season and is going to get plenty of playing time to prove himself. He hit a wall in the second half of last season (.208 with 55 Ks in 55 ABs), but he had a brilliant first half (5 HRs, 35 RBIs, .313 batting average, .351 on-base percentage) and was just getting back into baseball after a year off.

8) I still think the Diamondbacks have a stocked farm system despite all the prospects that have departed. O’Brien and Brito, pitchers Archie Bradley, Braden Shipley, and Alex Young, infielders Brandon Drury, Domingo Leyba, Jake Reinheimer, and Sergio Alcantra, and outfielders Gaby Guerrero and Marcus Wilson are still among the Diamondbacks top 30 prospects and several of them (including Bradley, Shipley and Drury) are either already in the majors or close to the majors. Infielder Jamie Westbrook is also a fast-rising prospect who has already reached high-A ball at the age of 20. Simply put, the Diamondbacks did the right thing in dealing from several areas of surplus and strength (the outfield, the lineup and offense, and the farm system) while not gutting or significantly weakening those areas in order to improve an obvious area of weakness (the pitching staff/starting rotation). If the Diamondbacks make the playoffs and/or win the World Series in the next five years – and considering how strong the team already was everywhere else, that’s a more than realistic possibility – trading Inciarte for Miller will have been more than worth it.

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