By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — If you were Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein or general manager Jed Hoyer, would you trade a young power hitter for a possible Gold Glove center fielder with a career .292 batting average and .329 on-base percentage?
Questions like that are being discussed these days in the business building across from Wrigley Field. The Cubs’ addition of outfielder Jason Heyward on an eight-year deal has increased the speculation of a trade that could involve Chicago right fielder Jorge Soler for speedy Atlanta center fielder Ender Inciarte, the 25-year-old former Diamondback who was dealt to the Braves recently as a part of the Shelby Miller deal.
Soler would be an unnecessary part of the 2016 equation if the Cubs decide against moving Heyward into center field. Outfield defense was a weakness for the 2015 club. Because of great defensive charting and positioning by bench/outfield coach Davy Martinez, the defenders held their own in the regular season. The cover was blown in the playoffs, where inexperience and a lack of range took a big bite out of the Chicago’s run at a National League pennant.
The subject of scouting the 23-year-old Soler is a tricky one. He possesses a great arm and tremendous power projections. With a team-friendly contract (Soler will earn about $3.6 million in 2016, part of a nine-year, $30-million deal signed in 2012), he’s easy to either trade or keep in his present role.
The fact that the Cubs could become too left-handed in their lineup also is reason for pause before dealing Soler. Projecting full seasons for Soler after just two years in the big leagues is difficult. Some minor injuries have prevented him from playing complete seasons. In 2015, Soler had 10 homers, 47 RBIs and a .723 OPS in 101 games.
Still, the upside is huge for teams that could add real power in an era where that is a difficult commodity to find. The Cubs can afford to part with it because they’re flush with big-timber types. Soler should bring a talented player or package of players if he’s moved.
Inciarte has some intriguing skills of his own to offer. Under contract control until 2020, the left-handed hitter can fly and puts the ball in play a ton. With Arizona in 2015, he hit .303 in 561 plate appearances. The bad news is he doesn’t walk often. The good news is he struck out only once every 10 at-bats. All of that equals a guy who hits a lot of ground balls and could be above-average in stealing a base and scoring runs.
Outfield defense is where Inciarte excels. He has a strong arm and plus range, according to scouts and metric reports. He played a lot of corner outfield in Arizona last season due to the outstanding season for A.J. Pollock.
A veteran National League scout gives Inciarte a 65 rating on defense, which is “good” in the 20-to-80 scale.
“He has an awesome arm with a quicker release than Soler,” the scout said. “For me, Inciarte and Heyward would save 100 runs (over the course of a season) between them.”
The Cubs are in a great position after their recent flurry of signings and the Starlin Castro deal with the Yankees. They don’t have to overreact to a volatile market place right now. Opening Day is still 111 days away. That leaves plenty of time to add an outfielder and two more pieces on the pitching staff, if they desire.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.