We’ve seen an unusual number of high-profile free agents come off the board in the first few weeks of November, though they’ve all been pitchers to this point. MLB Network’s Jon Heyman suggests, however, that the market for Starling Marte is strong enough that he could also sign this month, prior to the Dec. 1 expiration of the collective bargaining agreement.
That the 33-year-old Marte would command robust interest is only logical, given his longstanding track record and a brilliant 2021 campaign. While he’s a older than your typical free agent thanks to the club-friendly contract he inked early in his career, Marte has shown no signs of slowing down. To the contrary, his 2021 season was arguably his best yet. In 526 plate appearances between the Marlins and A’s, Marte turned in a .308/.381/.456 with a dozen home runs, 27 doubles and three triples — all while going 47-for-52 in stolen base attempts. He’s also perhaps the lone everyday center field option on the market.
Even if conventional wisdom suggests that the fleet-footed Marte will eventually slow down and move to a corner in a few years’ time, he still grades out as a plus runner and a respectable defensive option in center for the time being. Both Outs Above Average (2) and Ultimate Zone Rating (1.0) graded Marte as slightly above average, whereas Defensive Runs Saved was a bit below-average at minus-4. Make what you will of defensive metrics, which can of course be spotty on a year-to-year basis, but Marte has generally been passable in center and plus in left field. He also still ranks in the 83rd percentile of MLB players in terms of average sprint speed (28.4 ft/sec).
Given the scarcity of Marte’s skill set, the number of teams looking for help in the outfield (center field, in particular) and the lack of qualifying offer attached to him (he was ineligible by virtue of being traded), it’s no wonder that his market has quickly picked up steam. Prior reports have linked the Marlins, Mets, Phillies, Yankees and Giants to Marte, and Heyman tweeted this week that the Rangers — whom most expect to be quite aggressive in free agency — have also been weighing a run at Marte. USA Today’s Bob Nightengale adds this morning that the Astros, fresh off re-signing Justin Verlander, are being aggressive in their own efforts to sign Marte.
As we noted when ranking Marte 13th on MLBTR’s annual Top 50 free agent rankings, the list of teams with interest in bringing Marte aboard will be quite long. He’s been widely expected to command at least a three-year deal in free agency — the Marlins offered a lowball, three-year deal in the $30-39MM range prior to trading him — and with a number of recent free agents commanding premium salaries through age-36, we pegged him for a four-year deal at a total of $80MM.