The Braves are clicking on just about every cylinder at the moment, allowing the team to maintain a healthy advantage in the division even as the Nats have mounted a charge. While the Atlanta organization is no doubt preparing to make some pitching additions in the coming weeks, the position player mix seems mostly to be in fine working order.
Typically, a veteran returning from an injury makes for welcome news in advance of the trade deadline. But much of the Atlanta fan base seems to view the impending return of outfielder Ender Inciarte — who’ll be back as soon as Thursday — with something less like excitement and more like dread.
We’ve been through this topic before, but that was a month-and-a-half back. Some things have changed. Austin Riley looked at the time like a breakout star. But let’s check in on the youngster’s wRC+ by month: 186 (May), 96 (June), 32 (July). Needless to say, that’s not an optimal arc for a contending team. Switch-hitting utilityman Johan Camargo has perked up in the meantime, though he’s also the only position player other than Riley that is a conceivable candidate to be optioned down. Charlie Culberson and Matt Joyce occupy fairly limited roles, but has each been superb. Of course, Inciarate has also been in action of late on his rehab assignment. Let’s just say that his struggles from the early portion of the season have carried over. He has produced just seven singles and three walks in forty trips to the plate.
It’s possible to imagine quite a few possible roster permutations. There are arguments on every side of the discussion. Optioning Riley may or may not be good for his development, but it would mean taking one of the club’s highest-upside bats out of the MLB picture for at least a stretch. Sending Camargo down makes some sense on paper, but he’s an immensely useful player if he’s back to being an above-average hitter. It’s somewhat easier to imagine the club parting with Joyce than Culberson, but the 34-year-old Joyce carries a .296/.400/.494 slash with 14 walks against just 18 strikeouts. Inciarte could be jettisoned, or traded for whatever the team can get, but that’d mean selling quite low on a player who has been such a solid presence and still makes long-term roster sense. (Inciarte has more than five years of service time and therefore may not be optioned without his consent.)
There’s always the option of demoting or designating a reliever, but that’d likely only be a temporary measure, since the Braves are already carrying a four-man bench. Likewise, a temporary move involving one of the reserve players (optioning Camargo or finding a phantom injury list stint) would presumably only delay the inevitable decision. There’ll ultimately be a choice, even if it’s kicked down the road by a few weeks.
How do you think the Braves should handle the return of Inciarte? (Poll link for app users.)