Veteran outfielder Ender Inciarte, whom the Mets designated for assignment last week, rejected an outright assignment in favor of free agency, per Minor League Baseball’s transactions log. Inciarte, who began the season on a minor league deal with the Yankees, signed with the Mets shortly after being cut loose in the Bronx. He was in the Majors a week later but tallied only eight plate appearances over 11 games, functioning primarily as a late-inning option off the bench for Mets skipper Buck Showalter.
It’s quite a different place than Inciarte found himself just five years ago, when he was representing the Braves as an All-Star at this point in the summer. That year saw Inciarte bat .300 for the second time in three seasons and take home the second of what would be three consecutive Gold Glove Awards. A standout table-setter and all-world defender at that point in his career, Inciarte batted .300/.347/.401 with 20 homers, 78 doubles, 17 triples and 59 stolen bases in 420 games/1857 plate appearances from 2015-17.
Inciarte looked like a core piece for the Braves, who rewarded him with a five-year, $30.525MM extension in December of 2016. He won his second and third Gold Gloves in the contract’s first two seasons and also smacked 21 homers with 50 stolen bases, generally making the deal look like a wise investment.
A back strain cost him more than two months of the 2019 season, however, and he injured his hamstring not long after returning from that first lengthy stay on the injured list. He posted respectable but diminished numbers at the plate that season, but Inciarte’s bat completely cratered in 2020 and hasn’t yet rebounded. He’s turned in just a .197/.262/.271 slash line since Opening Day 2020, and while that’s a small sample of 228 plate appearances, Inciarte hasn’t fared well in Triple-A, either. He’s also dealt with further hamstring issues along the way.
A team needing some defense in center field and/or some speed off the bench could take a look at Inciarte, but it seems likelier he’ll find a new organization on a minor league contract after the All-Star break. At 31 years old, it’s possible Inciarte could get healthy and reemerge as a viable big league outfielder. He still has average or better defensive ratings dating back to 2019, but they don’t stack up with the elite rates he posted prior to the back and hamstring injuries that began in that 2019 campaign.