Inbox: Is 2019 time for Acuna to roam center?

Beat reporter Mark Bowman answers fans questions

November 9th, 2018

Do the Braves see as a center fielder or corner outfielder? And is this a factor when looking into trades and/or free agents?
-- @baldheaded1der

has won three consecutive Gold Gloves and is accurately still defined as one of the game's elite outfielders. As he prepares for his age-28 season, his glove, legs and arm still provide significant value. But when you have another option like Acuna, it makes sense to debate whether the longevity of that immediate value is best served in your current lineup or what could be brought back in return from a trade.
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Inciarte produced a MLB-high 21 Outs Above Average last year, which matched his total from 2017 and stood as three less than his league-leading total in '16. We haven't seen a noticeable decline yet, but defensive decline stands as the primary concern for all outfielders as they approach 30 years old.
So it would at least make sense for Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos to evaluate the current trade value for Inciarte, who will remain a bargain with a $5.7 million salary next year. The Venezuelan outfielder will make $7.7 million in 2020 and $8.7 million in '21. His $9 million team option for the '22 season includes a $1.025 million buyout.
Given that Inciarte distanced himself from his first-half struggles against left-handed pitchers by hitting .361 against southpaws after the All-Star break, he would most certainly draw interest from a team like the Indians, who will not part ways with or any of their top starting pitchers without getting a significant Major League piece in return.
If the Braves could land a top starting pitcher in return for Inciarte, they certainly should feel comfortable transitioning Acuna, who looked more comfortable in center field than in left this past season. He was credited with 4 Defensive Runs Saved in 74 2/3 innings in center and -2 DRS over 839 1/3 innings in left field.
Acuna's sample size in center field is small, but the eye test seemed to support the projection of these numbers. With that being said, Atlanta will not move Inciarte unless it is getting a significant return. Next offseason might be a more appropriate time to be concerned about the inevitable defensive decline.
There has been discussed interest in . What kind of contract do you think he would receive?
-- @koos_C

Earlier this week, a source said Brantley and catcher were among the Braves' top free-agent targets. But for now, I'd say they are simply among the options Atlanta is evaluating to fill its two definitive needs. We're still in the courting stage where teams show interest in many free agents just to get a feel for the potential interest and cost.

Brantley finished third in balloting for the 2014 American League MVP Award, but he has battled right shoulder injuries, which have necessitated a pair of surgeries. He finally proved to be healthy again this year, hitting 17 home runs with an .832 OPS in 143 games. But like Ramos, Brantley is a health risk who is on the wrong side of 30. For now, I would view both of these potential targets as nothing more than secondary options.
Who do you think are our untouchable prospects at this point?
-- @oldmanpierce

Acuna and Freddie Freeman are the only members of the organization who should be viewed as untouchables. The surplus of high-quality starting pitching prospects makes each of them expendable. Lack of depth at the respective positions might make it more painful to part ways with third-base prospects Austin Riley or Cristian Pache.
While the option exists to make something other than the primary third baseman, his presence and the fact that his contract is controlled through the 2023 season allows you to view Riley as one of those potential casualties of, "To get something good, you have to part with something that is potentially good." As for Pache, his expendability would be influenced by the expected quick rise of 2017 second-round Draft pick Drew Waters.
Why is there still talk about needing a third baseman? Carmargo has the job! Concentrate on the pitching staff and leave Johan alone!
-- @Gcracker3321

Because you have to evaluate all of your options, especially when you have somebody like Camargo, whose overall value is enhanced by his versatility. The Braves could certainly benefit from the power potential possessed by some of the other third-base options. So it makes sense to at least remain open to the possibility of acquiring a third baseman and transitioning Camargo to the shortstop role.
Anthopoulos has repeatedly said he would feel comfortable with Camargo at third base. He's also been very complimentary of the strides made by shortstop Dansby Swanson. With that being said, would it be wise for Anthopoulos to simply remain content and ignore the potential to possibly upgrade his offense at two positions with a move that could potentially garner more value if it would lead to Swanson being included in a trade? There's a chance that Atlanta will open next season with Camargo at third base and Swanson at shortstop. There's also a chance we'll see Swanson make more strides offensively next year with a healthy wrist. But it just doesn't seem wise to lock yourself into this plan, especially in early November.
We have outfield figured out. We're getting . I don't know what you don't understand about that, Bowman.
-- @MatthewWinston

Let's just say that the Braves had the financial means to responsibly give Harper the $400 million to $500 million deal that he hopes to get. I just don't see how you can responsibly make this kind of commitment without having a firm understanding of agent Scott Boras' Madness Compelling Replacement theory.