The Marlins have been in talks with outfielder Starling Marté about a potential contract extension, general manager Kim Ng told reporters (including Craig Mish of SportsGrid) this afternoon. Unsurprisingly, she didn’t elaborate on how far along those discussions were or handicap their odds of ultimately resulting in a deal.
Nevertheless, the presence of any midseason talks with Marté are notable, given Ng’s prior comments. Earlier this month, she told reporters the team hadn’t approached the star outfielder about a potential long-term deal. Marté suggested then that his preference was to come to an agreement with the Marlins on a contract that took him through the end of his career. It seems the front office and his representatives at Rep 1 Baseball have now at least opened those talks.
Marté is on track to hit free agency at the end of the season, and he’s presently amidst a career year at the plate. He’s hitting .293/.402/.473 with six home runs across 179 plate appearances. The resulting 148 wRC+ is the best mark of his nine-plus seasons. Excepting 2017, Marté has been an above-average hitter in every year of his career, but he’s getting on base at an unprecedented level this season.
Before 2021, Marté had never drawn walks in more than 6.1% of his plate appearances. This year, he’s bumped his walk rate to a stellar 13.4%. That seems to reflect a deliberate decision to be more patient, as the right-handed hitter is swinging at a career-low 46.5% of pitches he sees. (He’s also swinging less often than ever at pitches outside the strike zone). That increased selectiveness hasn’t resulted in any sort of uptick in strikeouts or impacted his power potential.
Marté presents something of a tricky evaluation for the Marlins (or potential free agent suitors). He’s always been productive, but he looks to have revamped his approach nearly a decade into his career. Whether he’ll continue to be this patient after such a long run of being a highly-aggressive hitter is unknown.
There’s also the matter of Marté’s age to consider. He turns 33 years old in October, which could give Miami some pause. He hasn’t shown much sign of slowing down, though. Marté’s not quite as fast as he was in his 20’s, but he still has 86th-percentile peak speed, according to Statcast. His defensive metrics in center field remain positive. And his rate of hard hit balls (those that leave the bat over 95 MPH) is at 36.2%, right in line with his career mark. A handful of mishits have brought down his average exit velocity to a career-worst 85.6 MPH, but there’s no indication he’s suffered any sort of drop in bat speed or raw power.
If Marté and the Marlins don’t make progress on an extension in the coming weeks, he’d be one of the more obvious trade chips on the market. At 33-44, the Marlins don’t look likely to contend in 2021. They’re planning to move some of their impending free agents, a process they began this morning by sending outfielder Corey Dickerson (along with controllable reliever Adam Cimber) to the Blue Jays. As perhaps the premier center fielder who could be available, Marté would draw no shortage of interest, especially since he’s only due the balance of an affordable $12.5MM salary for the remainder of the season. The Marlins could offer Marté a qualifying offer if they hold onto him until the end of the year but don’t agree on an extension, but the value of a midseason trade package seems likely to exceed that of a compensatory draft pick.
Shortstop Miguel Rojas would also draw plenty of interest from contenders if made available, but it doesn’t seem the Marlins are particularly eager to move him. Ng suggested (via Mish) that Rojas was more likely than not to remain in Miami past the July 30 trade deadline. His contract contains a $5.5MM option for 2022 that vests if he accrues 500 plate appearances this season. He’ll need a manageable 271 trips to the plate over Miami’s final 85 games (3.19 PA per game) to lock in that money, although it seems likely the Marlins would exercise the option even if it doesn’t vest.
Rojas is a beloved member of the clubhouse who’s amidst a third consecutive productive season. The 32-year-old is hitting a league average .256/.328/.406 this year while playing quality defense at shortstop. That’s valuable enough even before considering his off-field importance to the organization.