The Phillies have interest in center fielder Starling Marte and reliever Aaron Loup, according to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman (Twitter links). Since the outfield and bullpen are the top priorities for the Phils this winter, it isn’t surprising that Marte and Loup have gained the club’s attention. Among the several teams involved in Loup’s market, Heyman also notes that the Mets are looking into bringing Loup back to Queens for a longer stint after the southpaw dominated out of New York’s bullpen in 2021.
Marte is really the only true full-time center fielder in this year’s free agent class, though Marte’s 2021 numbers would’ve still put him at or near the top of a deeper center field market. Marte hit .310/.383/.458 with 12 home runs and a league-best 47 stolen bases over 526 combined plate appearances with the Marlins and Athletics, despite missing about five weeks due to a fractured rib. Marte did benefit from a .369 BABIP, though his excellent speed and baserunning played a big factor in that extra batted-ball “luck.” His 8.2% walk rate was still below average, though also the best of Marte’s 10 big league seasons.
Reviews were a little mixed on Marte’s glovework, as Defensive Runs Saved had him at -4, though UZR/150 (+1) and Outs Above Average (+4) gave his center field defense positive grades. As Marte enters his age-33 season, however, he certainly still seems athletic enough to provide some quality help up the middle.
This is all music to the Phillies’ ears, considering the club has Bryce Harper and not much else in its current outfield mix. Both Andrew McCutchen and Odubel Herrera are free agents, and while Herrera had a pretty modest 2021 season, he was still the best of a revolving door of subpar options for the Phils in center. Installing Marte in center field and at or near the top of the Philadelphia lineup would fill a couple of major holes for the club.
Signing Marte would represent yet another big expenditure on the Phillies’ books, though president Dave Dombrowski had given some indication (“I don’t find it restrictive“) that ownership has given him some spending flexibility. With roughly $171.1MM committed to payroll in 2022, the Phillies could afford to give Marte a big contract and still have some significant room under whatever the luxury tax threshold ends up being next season. Or, the Phils might even be comfortable going over the tax threshold, as owner John Middleton has indicated in the past that he would be okay with paying the tax in the right circumstance.
Loup won’t cost anywhere near Marte’s price range, but after signing a one-year/$3MM deal with the Mets last winter, Loup is in line for a much more significant contract this time around. The veteran left-hander had one of the better seasons of any reliever in baseball, with a tiny 0.95 ERA over 56 2/3 innings out of New York’s bullpen. While Loup’s .229 wOBA far outpaced his .272 xwOBA, Loup also had a 50.4% grounder rate to go along with above-average strikeout (26.1%) and walk (7.3%) rates.
Even if Loup pitches closer to his 3.32 SIERA next year, the Mets would certainly still like that kind of production back in their pen, and Loup would be even more of a boost to a Philadelphia relief corps that badly struggled in 2021. Loup doesn’t much closing experience, so while he isn’t the lockdown ninth-inning answer Dombrowski is looking for, Loup can at least help the Phillies take a lead into the ninth.