The scant non-CBA news across the MLB radar this December has centered around baseball history, random player comments, and almost entirely unremarkable minor league deals. Although the lockout prevents the Yankees from signing pretty much any contract that actually matters, they can still engage in that third category, and per the team’s transactions page, one previously unannounced deal has been revealed.
The Yankees have signed outfielder Ender Inciarte. A couple years ago, that news would have prompted some serious intrigue, as Inciarte was a very nice player. At the very least however, it’s still a fragment more interesting than, say, minor league deals for fringe reliever Jimmy Cordero and Double-A outfielder Blake Perkins.
After a promising first couple seasons in Arizona from 2014-15, Inciarte was sent to Atlanta alongside Dansby Swanson as just another piece in the disastrous Shelby Miller trade (as always, shout out to former GM Dave Stewart). The former No. 1 pick Swanson was the prize, but Inciarte turned out to be quite the pickup for the Braves.
Baseball fans across town in Queens will almost certainly remember Inciarte from his high-flying defense, which caused some serious headaches in pivotal moments:
Inciarte held down center field during some lean years in Atlanta during the mid-2010s, winning three consecutive Gold Gloves from 2016-18 and making the 2017 NL All-Star team. By WAR, Inciarte was better thanks to superior defense in other seasons, but Inciarte would probably be the first to say that 2017 was his best all-around year. The lefty hit .304/.350/.409 with 27 doubles, 11 homers, a 98 OPS+, and 2.7 WAR in 157 games.
Although Inciarte was never much of a hitter, 2017 was his third straight with a league-average bat. Unfortunately for him, just as the Braves ascended and began their newest run of NL East division titles, his performance took a dip. His OPS+ fell to 90 to 2018, and a combination of back and hamstring injuries limited him to similar numbers in just 65 games in 2019.
By 2020, Inciarte was a shell of his former self, and though he was long an Atlanta area favorite, the team made the tough decision to release him in July 2021 after he hit a dismal .200/.267/.277 with a 44 OPS+ in his previous 98 games since the start of the pandemic. He tried to catch on with the Reds on a minor league deal in August, but they cut him as well after a middling showing in 15 games at Triple-A Louisville.
At this point, the Yankees probably just see the 31-year-old as outfield depth. Inciarte can still go and get it out there, as while his defensive numbers aren’t as gaudy as they were during his prime, they have still been above-average since 2019. As is the customary rule with minor league contracts, if Inciarte sees significant time in 2022 for the Yankees, then something will have gone seriously wrong.