With most of the free agent action already completed, attention has shifted to some major remaining potential trade chips. We’ve seen a lot of chatter but little in the way of blockbuster swaps thus far.
Pirates outfielder Starling Marte continues to stand out as a trade candidate. He’s a significant talent and consistent performer, having contributed at least 3 fWAR in every one of his full seasons in the majors. Of course, that’d also be a true-but-misleading way of glossing over a 2017 campaign cut short by a PED suspension. That’s not likely to be much of a factor given the past market treatment of players receiving punishment and the amount of time that has elapsed.
Marte has his flaws. Beyond the PED bust, he doesn’t walk much, dipped a bit in the defensive metrics in 2019, and didn’t produce an impressive exit velocity last year. He’s also not especially youthful at 31 years of age. But Marte is a well-above-average hitter and outstanding baserunner who’s at least capable of holding down center field, even if he won’t add significant value there as he ages. His remaining contract rights — an $11.5MM salary in 2020 followed by a $12.5MM club option ($1MM buyout) — are undeniably a positive-value asset for the Bucs.
The Pirates are still said to be holding talks. Perhaps new GM Ben Cherington now has a better sense of how he’d like to proceed after a few months on the job. So, now that we’ve already seen so many players find new homes, which teams still shape up as plausible landing spots for Marte?
Mets: The New York org has been tied to Marte more than any other club. Adding Jake Marisnick took away the immediacy of the need up the middle; he’s currently slated to share time with Brandon Nimmo. With Michael Conforto, J.D. Davis, and perhaps Yoenis Cespedes in the mix at the corners, there’d be a bit of an overload in the case of an addition. Of course, one or more of those players could be on the move in a Marte deal. First baseman Dominic Smith would also be a candidate to move, though the Pirates have a younger first bagger already in Josh Bell so a third team might end up in the picture.
Diamondbacks: The last Marte worked out; why not another? Ketel Marte is presently penciled in at center, but the team’s preference is to play the budding star at second base. Acquiring the Pirates’ Marte would mean a primary outfield alignment with him up the middle and Kole Calhoun and David Peralta at the corners. Moving the preexisting, more youthful Marte into the infield would force some infield reshuffling but wouldn’t cause any major problems. The Snakes have a deep farm system from which to deal.
Rangers: With Delino DeShields Jr. out of the picture, the current plan in Texas is to plug in Danny Santana in center in hopes he can sustain last year’s BABIP and home run surge. The backup plan would be to slide star slugger Joey Gallo back up the middle, though the club seems disinclined to wear him down too much. Adding Marte would bring a lot of balance to the situation, with Santana functioning in a utility role, and help make up for the Rangers’ failed pursuit of Anthony Rendon.
Padres: While the Friars continue to work to consolidate their talent pool into present MLB ability, they’ve still prioritized value and pursued upside. That explains why the team’s current big league center field mix features Trent Grisham and Manuel Margot, with Taylor Trammell on deck — if he can finish his development and transition to the game’s highest level. Marte would be a different piece entirely, one seemingly well-suited to the Padres’ claimed aspirations of near-term competitiveness. There’s certainly ample talent to draw upon in trade talks.
Braves: There’s still a lot of thump in the middle of the Braves’ lineup, but 2020 may be dry unless the club finds a new rainmaker to make up for the loss of Josh Donaldson. While the Atlanta roster features two plausible center fielders — defensive wizard Ender Inciarte and young star Ronald Acuna — it could still be improved through the addition of Marte. The Braves could utilize him in the corners at time, limiting the burden on both Marte and veteran Nick Markakis, while allowing Austin Riley to focus on his customary third base (and on adjusting to MLB pitching). Most importantly, the Atlanta lineup would add a 20/20 performer who turned in a 119 wRC+ in 2019.
Phillies: Don’t sleep on the Philadelphia organization, even if a cross-state swap might prove tough to orchestrate. With Odubel Herrera officially out of the picture, the club’s center field mix features Adam Haseley, Roman Quinn, and Nick Martini, with Scott Kingery presently slated for primary duty at third base. The Phils need to upgrade in center or at third if they’re to make a much-awaited breakout. Adding at the hot corner might be preferable in some regards, but the potentially available trade candidates all have sky-high price tags. Marte may now be the most plausible finishing move for the Phillies.
Blue Jays: It’s a bit of a surprise that the club has thus far retained closer Ken Giles. Now it has picked up a long-awaited rotation anchor in Hyun-Jin Ryu. So … could the Jays pursue a second big addition of the winter? Center field could be manned by an assortment of players — Randal Grichuk, Anthony Alford, and Teoscar Hernandez are among the existing options — but there’s plenty of room to improve. The Jays want to allow opportunities for a few younger players, but there’s a risk of being caught in the middle in 2020. With two years of control left over Marte, adding him wouldn’t be overly committing.
Division Rivals: Presumably, the Bucs won’t be overly sentimental with respect to Marte. It would sting to see him playing for a division rival, but the organization needs to maximize its resources after a brutal 2019 season. So it’s at least conceptually possible that discussions could be had with some fellow NL Central clubs — though there surely won’t be any discounts. The Cubs stand out from the perspective of need, as they’re presently set to roll out some combination of Ian Happ, Albert Almora, and Jason Heyward. But even Marte’s reasonable salary could be an impediment. The Reds and Cardinals both have loaded outfield mixes but could still improve with Marte. The Cincinnati org has aggressively pursued veterans in recent years and could perhaps envision Marte sharing time up the middle and in the corners with recent signee Shogo Akiyama. In that scenario, young players Nick Senzel, Aristides Aquino, and Jesse Winker would alternatively be trade chips (in a Marte deal or some other swap) or other key parts of an exciting outfield mix. And in St. Louis, the ever-evolving outfield picture seemingly features Harrison Bader and Lane Thomas in center. The Cards are still dabbling in the market for Marcell Ozuna, so there’s obviously some desire to add a quality right-handed bat. And the team would surely prefer it be one that could also handle the center field position defensively.