At the moment, the Pirates don’t appear intent on moving Starling Marté this offseason, reports MLB.com’s Adam Berry as part of a reader mailbag. In fact, Berry’s sources believe the standout center fielder will open next season in Pittsburgh.
Marté being marked off limits in trade would be quite the blow to those shopping for a center field upgrade in a very shallow market. The upcoming free agent class doesn’t boast an obvious everyday option to play up the middle on the grass. Brett Gardner and Avisaíl García are each coming off productive seasons in which they logged center field time, but each seems better suited to a corner. Jarrod Dyson and Billy Hamilton (whose team option is sure to be bought out by the Braves) are cleaner defensive fits but neither brings enough offensively to be a high-end option.
Turning to the trade market, Mookie Betts would be any contender’s dream, but it’s still unclear whether the Red Sox would actually move the franchise icon. Boston is more likely to shop Jackie Bradley, Jr., but he’s had three straight mediocre seasons at the plate. Marté, then, seemed to offer the best combination of production and realistic availability on the center field market.
Of course, as Berry notes, any inclination at this stage is hardly set in stone. The organization is looking for a new manager, for one, so perhaps the front office will only turn its attention to player transactions once their search for a clubhouse leader is complete. Berry stops short of calling Marté untouchable, and the organization would presumably listen if a caller bowled them over with an offer. Nothing on Marté is yet definitive, with Pittsburgh’s front office having been tight-lipped about everything since announcing their decision to fire manager Clint Hurdle.
To be honest, it would be quite surprising if Pittsburgh didn’t at least listen on Marté at some point this offseason. The Pirates completely melted down in the second half en route to an NL Central-worst 69-93 record, and there’s little reason to expect an immediate bounce back. Pittsburgh’s position players were below-average both offensively and defensively, per Fangraphs, while ace Jameson Taillon is already believed out for next season after undergoing his second Tommy John surgery. Even if the club gets returns to peak form out of starting pitchers Trevor Williams and Chris Archer, it’s difficult to imagine them contending in 2020.
That becomes problematic with Marté’s control window dwindling. Surely, the club will exercise his $11.5MM team option for next year, and he has a similarly appealing $12.5MM option for 2021. While Berry notes it’s more in the organization’s M.O. to trade players before they enter their final season of club control, it seems wise for them to get a head start in Marté’s case. As mentioned, the center field market is extremely shallow this offseason. Holding Marté will only diminish his trade value as his team control shrinks. For all the club’s struggles, Marté was again productive, slashing .295/.342/.503 (119 wRC+) in 2019. In all likelihood, the 31 year-old is probably as good now as he’ll ever be moving forward.
All these factors combined to make Marté, on the surface, one of the offseason’s most obvious trade candidates. MLBTR’s Jeff Todd even identified some potential suitors. While hardly foreclosing the possibility of a deal, Berry’s report certainly adds an interesting wrinkle. How General Manager Neal Huntington and his front office choose to proceed with Marté will be among the top storylines of the Pirates’ winter.