The Marlins offered star outfielder Starling Marte a three-year, $30MM contract extension, reports Bob Nightengale of USA Today. Marte rejected the proposal, and Nightengale writes there’s now “a great chance” the impending free agent will be traded in advance of the July 30 deadline.
It’s not especially surprising to hear Marte and his representatives at Rep 1 Baseball passed on a $30MM proposal. Jordan McPherson and Craig Mish of the Miami Herald reported last month that Marte was seeking a three or four year deal that paid around $50MM.
Given how well Marte has played this year, that $50MM ask certainly doesn’t seem outlandish. He’s scheduled to hit free agency as the top center fielder available (excluding utilityman Chris Taylor) thanks to an impressive .286/.389/.443 line across 240 plate appearances. Marte has always been a productive player, but he’s hitting at a career-best level this year by virtue of a more patient approach. Marte’s chasing pitches outside the strike zone at the lowest rate of his career, enabling a personal-best 12.1% walk percentage. He’s making a strong rate of hard contact and barreling up a career-high 10.2% of batted balls, per Statcast, a mark that places him in the 66th percentile leaguewide.
Marte turns 33 years old in October, which will cap the length of any new deal. Still, he’s not yet shown any ill effects of aging. In addition to his strong offense, Marte’s still running the bases and defending at a high level. His sprint speed is down a bit relative to his physical peak, but he’s still an 85th percentile runner. And advanced defensive metrics have pegged his glovework as above-average to plus, so there wouldn’t seem to be any real concern about his ability to hold up in center field over the next couple seasons.
The Marlins’ books are almost completely empty for 2022 and beyond, so there’s room for the club to up their offer to Marte if they’d like him to stick around. If they’re unwilling to approach Marte’s asking price on a long-term investment, then a trade indeed seems the likeliest course of action. At 40-51, the Fish sit in last place in the NL East and are almost certain to miss the playoffs in 2021. The Marlins could hang onto Marte through the end of the year and make him a qualifying offer, but contending clubs seem likelier to offer a prospect return over the next couple weeks that’s more valuable than the compensatory draft choice Miami would receive if Marte rejected a QO and signed elsewhere.
A handful of contenders have received little to no production from their center fielders this season. The Yankees, Braves, Phillies, Rays, Reds, Blue Jays, Mariners, Brewers and Red Sox have all received below-average production at the position. A few of those teams (including Tampa Bay, Toronto, Milwaukee and Boston) have viable in-house alternatives that could dissuade them pursuing a center field upgrade. It’s not clear whether the Yankees and Mariners are in position to pursue an impending free agent at the deadline. The Braves’ and Phillies’ presence within the division could present an obstacle to a deal.
While there are potential roadblocks to a Marte trade in any specific case, it stands to reason a few of those center field-needy clubs will be in contact with Miami. Teams seeking corner outfield help could certainly look to Marte as well. He has plenty of early-career experience in left field, or an acquiring team could bump their incumbent center fielder to a corner to accommodate a Marte pickup. The reported lack of progress on extension talks will make Marte one of the top position player trade candidates over the next twelve days.