ATLANTA -- After getting a better feel for all Ender Inciarte has to offer, the Braves opted to extend their control of the Gold Glove Award-winning center fielder, who now could be positioned at the top of Atlanta's lineup through at least the 2021 season.
Inciarte's reward for his 2016 accomplishments came in the form of a five-year, $30.5 million contract that the Braves announced on Friday morning. The 26-year-old outfielder will receive an average annual salary of $6.1 million over the guaranteed portion of this deal, which includes a $3.5 million signing bonus and a $9 million option ($1.025 million buyout) for '22.
"Ender is one of our players I keep in contact with during the offseason and he is very excited about the direction we're going," Braves general manager John Coppolella said. "We are very excited to have a center fielder and leadoff hitter of his caliber around to play a significant role in our future."
Since the start of the 2015 season, Inciarte leads all National League outfielders with 44 Defensive Runs Saved. His 6.8 fWAR over the same period also ranks eighth within that group, and he was honored with his first Gold Glove Award in November. But the Braves' willingness to make this commitment was significantly influenced by the offensive strides Inciarte made over the second half of his first season in Atlanta.
The only NL outfielder to produce a better fWAR than Inciarte (3.2) after this year's All-Star break was NL MVP Kris Bryant (3.5). After missing most of the 2016 season's first month with a hamstring injury, Inciarte entered the All-Star break hitting just .227 with a .294 on-base percentage. But his production erupted after he reclaimed the leadoff role in early August, and he ended up hitting .341 with a .396 on-base percentage after the break.
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When the Braves acquired Inciarte via last December's blockbuster trade with the D-backs, there were concerns about his durability and his .586 OPS against left-handers through the first two seasons of his big league career. The latter became less of a concern after he hit .410 (25-for-61) and compiled a .463 on-base percentage against southpaws after the break.
Inciarte's deal buys out each of his four arbitration-eligible years. His annual salary figures over the guaranteed portion of the contract are: $2 million (2017), $4 million ('18), $5 million ('19), $7 million ('20), $8 million ('21). MLB Trade Rumors had projected him to receive a $2.8 million salary in 2017 via the arbitration process.
If Inciarte extends this season's offensive success and continues to be an elite outfielder who can affect games with both his glove and tremendous arm, this deal could prove to be a value for the Braves. The Phillies recently agreed to the same five-year, $30.5 million deal with Odubel Herrera, a center fielder who, like Inciarte, would have been arbitration eligible through the 2020 season.
Herrera has proven to be more productive offensively over the course of the past two seasons and thus has compiled a better fWAR (7.8 vs. 6.8) than Inciarte within this span. But the Braves' center fielder has been a clearly superior defender (44 DRS vs. Herrera's 16 DRS) and his offensive potential showed as he ranked eighth among all NL outfielders with a .836 OPS after the All-Star break.
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.