The Atlanta Braves are in a nice spot all the way around, but there’s one odorous contract they’d definitely erase if they could.
Coming off taking the eventual champion Los Angeles Dodgers to seven games in the NLCS, the Atlanta Braves are set up to be a contender for years to come. Visions of big offseason moves (George Springer?) didn’t come to fruition, and the New York Mets are coming for them in the NL East. Still, the Braves are the best team in the NL East until proven otherwise.
As things sit right now, the Braves have a middle of the pack payroll (14th-highest, a little shy of $128.9 million, according to Spotrac). So they are in a good spot, with an extension coming for first baseman (and reigning NL MVP) Freddie Freeman. But that doesn’t mean they’re getting value from every player on the payroll.
One bad contract stands out on Braves payroll
Ender Inciarte won three straight Gold Gloves from 2016-2018, with an All-Star nod in 2017. But an injury-shortened year in 2019 (65 games) wasn’t good, and last year things went off a cliff (.190/.262/.250 slash-line).
Inciarte is due to make $8 million in salary for the final fully guaranteed year of his contract this year. That makes him the sixth-highest player on the Braves this year. He was also not on the Braves’ postseason roster last year, and top prospect Cristian Pache may permanently replace him in center field this spring.
Inciarte has a $9 million option for 2022, with a $1.025 million buyout. So practically being on an expiring contract makes him a possible trade chip, if he gets a chance to rehab his value. Along with his .512 OPS last year his defense declined, so the Braves would be making themselves weaker having Inciarte in the lineup. Assuming Pache wins the starting job in center field, and proves to be up to the task, Inciarte could be an expensive insurance policy.
If Inciarte doesn’t get on track early this season, the Braves could take the easiest path left and unload him. But if they could do so today, they’d definitely erase his contract from their payroll without thinking twice.