The Pirates will listen to offers on center fielder Starling Marte, although to this point there’s no traction toward any sort of a trade, MLB Network’s Jon Heyman tweets. That Marte would be available with two years of club control remaining comes as no surprise. If anything, prior suggestions that he wouldn’t be moved this winter (which came under the previous front office regime) were more unexpected. Marte himself has since even gone on record to state that he’d be open to being dealt to a contending club.
The $24MM Marte can earn over the next two seasons — $11.5MM salary in 2020, $12.5MM option for 2021 — is an expensive sum for the perennially low-spending Pirates but an affordable rate for many others throughout the league. The Pittsburgh organization also just overhauled its front office and field staff on the heels of a disastrous 93-loss season and doesn’t seem likely to contend in 2020. Listening on Marte is to be expected, which is why he checked in near the top of MLBTR’s most recent inventory of baseball’s top trade candidates. The Pirates, Heyman notes, would like to add a high-end catching prospect by some means this winter (although they’ll have other players to market beyond Marte).
There’s every reason to think that interest in Marte will be robust in the coming weeks (or possibly months). The best center fielders in free agency are Brett Gardner, who seems likely to return to the Yankees, and a wild card option in Japanese star Shogo Akiyama. Other trade candidates could certainly crop up on the market, but few would be able to match Marte’s level of production and relatively affordable control.
Marte will play the entire 2020 season at age 31 and is fresh off a .295/.342/.503 batting line with a career-high 23 home runs. Obligatory juiced ball caveat aside, Marte also swatted 20 long balls a year prior. Skeptics surely questioned his true offensive abilities (and perhaps still do) following 2017’s 80-game PED ban, but Marte has posted a strong .285/.336/.462 batting line in 1472 plate appearances since returning from suspension that July.
He may not quite be a superstar-level performer at the plate, but Marte has demonstrated that he’s clearly a quality hitter at a premium defensive position. He was 19 to 20 percent better than a league-average hitter in 2019 by measure of park- and league-adjusted metrics like wRC+ (119) and OPS+ (120). That’s particularly impressive when considering that center fielders, as a collective group, hit five percent worse than the league average in 2019 (95 wRC+). Add in that his 58 stolen bases over the past two seasons tie him for sixth-most in the Majors, and there’s plenty to like about Marte’s all-around capabilities on offense.
Defensive stats present more of a mixed bag. Although Statcast credited Marte with a respectable two outs above average in center this year, both Defensive Runs Saved (-9) and Ultimate Zone Rating (-7.6) felt that the 2019 campaign was the worst of his career in center. For a player entering his age-31 season, that’s not ideal, but it’s worth noting that he graded out anywhere from above-average to excellent by all three of those metrics as recently as 2018. At worst, he could be viewed as a player with another year of center field left in him before transitioning to an outfield corner. Even with substandard defensive marks, Marte was worth 3.0 fWAR and 2.9 bWAR in 2019, so he’s a plenty valuable asset and well worth his remaining contractual obligation.
The trade market should see plenty of teams with potential center field needs inquire. The Phillies, Cubs, Reds, D-backs, Padres, Giants, Rangers, Braves and White Sox all seem like clubs that could inquire and gauge the asking price on Marte. The Blue Jays could represent an on-paper fit, but recent reports indicate that they’re not planning to pursue such a swap. The Mets, too, could use a center fielder — although they did just pick up Jake Marisnick, a more cost-effective option, in a swap with the Astros yesterday. If nothing else, Pirates fans should brace themselves for the inevitability that Marte’s name will be a popular one at next week’s Winter Meetings.