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Inbox: How will Inciarte's return affect roster?

Beat reporter Mark Bowman answers questions from Braves fans
@mlbbowman
May 27, 2019

With Ender Inciarte seemingly still a couple weeks away from resuming baseball activities, the Braves have some time to evaluate their options. If a decision had to be made today, they would likely create a roster spot by going to a seven-man bullpen. As long as the rotation extends its

With Ender Inciarte seemingly still a couple weeks away from resuming baseball activities, the Braves have some time to evaluate their options. If a decision had to be made today, they would likely create a roster spot by going to a seven-man bullpen.

As long as the rotation extends its recent success, there is a lesser need for Atlanta to carry eight relievers. At least five of the current eight relief options are multi-inning options, and A.J. Minter will likely be asked to work more than one inning a couple more times before he returns to the big league roster. When a long reliever is taxed and unavailable for a couple days, the Braves have flexibility because Touki Toussaint, Kyle Wright and Bryse Wilson can be shuttled between the Majors and Triple-A Gwinnett.

If the Braves would continue carrying eight relievers, the other most likely moves would be to either bid adieu to Matt Joyce or option Johan Camargo to Gwinnett. Though he has struggled at the plate, Camargo’s versatility brings significant value to the bench. Joyce provides some power potential, but Inciarte’s speed and potential value as a late-inning defensive replacement might be more valuable to the bench.

Of course, all these projections are being made with the assumption Austin Riley continues to prove he makes the Braves’ lineup exponentially better. The 21-year-old prospect has hit .333 (16-for-48) with five homers and a 1.060 OPS through his first 12 games, but he’s also committed three errors in 20 chances in left field. He had also stuck out in 15 of his most recent 32 at-bats before delivering a key RBI single in Sunday night’s comeback win over the Cardinals.

With the Braves having the ninth and 21st overall picks, you can at least attempt to make an argument they need the slot money flexibility that would have been lost had they signed either of these free agents. But there are plenty of other pitching-hungry teams that chose not to sign either for reasons that certainly had nothing to do with losing a Draft pick.

Whether it be medical reports, cost or concerns about what was witnessed last year, teams had a hesitance to add either of these accomplished veteran arms. The Braves made it clear they weren’t interested in Dallas Keuchel during the early portion of the offseason, and their communication with Kimbrel ended when the closer made it clear he wanted more than a one- or two-year deal.

Even though their rotation has taken shape over the past couple weeks, I think adding a starter ranks higher than a reliever for the Braves. With Sean Newcomb and Toussaint currently aiding an improved bullpen, the team could use insurance to guard against an injury or the possibility that either Max Fried or Mike Soroka fatigues down the stretch.

But there is enough financial flexibility to improve both the rotation and bullpen. If Kimbrel wants to return to Atlanta on a short-term deal, there’s a chance the Braves would bite if the price is right. But nothing I’ve heard over the past couple weeks leads me to believe there’s more than a 50 percent chance this reunion occurs.

Obviously, the primary concern regarding asking any switch-hitter to do this would be how long it might take him to get used to seeing right-handed pitching while batting from the right side. The counter argument I’ve heard from some in this case is that it wouldn’t take long for Albies to adjust and prove quite capable of besting the .235 batting average and .676 OPS he has produced against righties so far this season.

To answer your question, the Braves have not revealed any indication they would like Albies to make this switch in the middle of a season. My initial thought without looking at the numbers was this would reduce his power potential. But from the right side since the start of last season, he has produced a .551 slugging percentage and homered once every 20.4 at-bats. From the left side, he has slugged .402 and homered once every 32.3 at-bats.

Over the 28 games played through the end of April, Albies hit .247 with a .723 OPS against right-handers pitchers and .406 with a 1.188 OPS against lefties. In the 24 games that have followed, he’s hit .221 with a .620 OPS against righties and .304 with a .638 OPS against lefties.

There have been concerns about his leg kick from the left side dating back to the Minors. So, eventually there might be a need to make a drastic adjustment. But for now, I think it’s best to let him endure the same growing pains experienced by most 22-year-olds in the Majors.

Multiple medical tests and evaluations have not shown clear indication of why Gohara has continued to be bothered by left shoulder discomfort. There’s a chance, he will eventually need to undergo exploratory surgery. Nevertheless, it appears this will be another lost season for the 22-year-old southpaw, who certainly seemed quite capable of at least being a multi-inning asset in this year’s bullpen.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.