The baseball world was collectively stunned yesterday by the announcement of an 80-game suspension for Pirates center fielder Starling Marte, who tested positive for Nandrolone — an anabolic steroid (which, as Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette details, has a long history of use in professional sports). Unsurprisingly, there have been a number of reaction pieces written, to say nothing of significant on-field ramifications for the Bucs, who will be without arguably their best player for half of the 2017 season. Some notable aftereffects and reactions…
- The Pirates have shifted Andrew McCutchen back to center field will utilize a combination of Adam Frazier, Josh Harrison, John Jaso and Jose Osuna (who was called up from Triple-A following Marte’s suspension) in right field, as MLB.com’s Adam Berry writes in an excellent breakdown on the fallout from Marte’s 80-game ban. The Bucs have no plans to shift Josh Bell back to the outfield at this time, per Berry.
- While the immediate reaction from many was that Marte’s suspension could open a window for touted outfield prospect Austin Meadows, GM Neal Huntington ruled out that possibility (also via Berry’s piece). “We’re encouraged by where Meadows will be at some point over the course of the summer,” Huntington told reporters. “He’s not ready right now, but we’re thrilled by where he can go.” It’s hard to refute Huntington’s assessment; even though Meadows clearly comes with a lofty ceiling, he’s followed up last year’s .214/.297/.460 showing in 175 Triple-A plate appearances with a mere .146/.217/.244 line through 46 PAs in Indianapolis this season. The Pirates typically wait until their top prospects have avoided Super Two status before promoting them to the Majors anyhow, but statistically speaking, Meadows has yet to demonstrate that he’s ready for more advanced competition.
- Marte first tested positive early in Spring Training, reports USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, but he was allowed to play through this point in the season as his appeal process played out. Nightengale adds that while the Pirates could theoretically make a run at Angel Pagan now with a hole in the outfield, they’ll likely pass. Huntington suggested that trades aren’t an option at this time, Nightengale adds. In Berry’s column above, Huntington indeed suggested that trades for impact players at this point of the season are “not real,” and he cast some doubt on bringing in a free agent: “We’ll always look for ways to improve the club. It would have to be someone who is a significant upgrade over our internal options.”
- Marte’s teammates, certainly, are disappointed by the news, but they also offered messages of support following the news, writes Stephen J. Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. McCutchen, Josh Harrison, Gregory Polanco and Gerrit Cole were among the members of the Pirates roster quoted in Nesbitt’s column. “He’s not exiled,” Harrison told reporters. “He made a mistake.” Polanco and Cole both referred to Marte as their “brother” when speaking to the media. “When you make a mistake, you gotta pay for it,” McCutchen said to reporters before also voicing his support. “…I’m just trying to be a good friend before I am a teammate.”
- Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo was among the players to call for more testing throughout the league. Rizzo was doing an interview with Yahoo’s Big League Stew at the time the news of the suspension hit, and told them (Twitter link): “It kinda makes you angry as a player, because you know there are still flaws in the system, you know there are still guys getting away with it. For me, I’ve been drug tested zero times this year. Not once since the beginning-of-Spring-Training standard drug test. Guys are going to get away with it as long as they can and obviously everybody’s going to say they didn’t know they were doing it.” Many current and former players took to social media to call for more stringent testing policies and, in some cases, harsher punishment for first-time offenders.
- ESPN’s Buster Olney opines that Marte’s suspension taints his legacy in Pittsburgh to the point that he can never provide a suitable return on their long-term investment in him. Marte’s suspension comes early in a pivotal season for the Pirates that may very well be McCutchen’s last year in black and yellow, Olney notes, and Pittsburgh had very little margin for error as it sought to keep up with the Cubs and Cardinals. While it’s hard to disagree with the notion that Marte’s suspension is a poorly timed blow that that Pirates could ill afford, the suggestion that he’s “torpedoed” his value beyond repair seems excessive. Marte is earning a combined $17.5MM in 2018-19 and has a pair of reasonably priced club options for the 2020 and 2021 seasons.
- Yahoo’s Jeff Passan lists a number of myths and truths about performance enhancing drugs in a reaction column, ultimately calling for transparency and regulated use of certain substances (though not necessarily Nandrolone). Passan points out that some steroids are already commonly used (e.g. cortisone injections for pain) as a reference point when citing that the term “performance enhancing drugs” is rather arbitrary in its nature. “There is a place for chemistry in baseball and all other sports, and it is in a tightly regulated, ever-evolving partnership with doctors, chemists, politicians, ethicists, management and players to develop fair rules for sport while acknowledging sport itself can benefit from the use of drugs,” writes Passan. “The rules in place now don’t work. They never have. They never will.” Passan also suggests that PEDs will never be eradicated from baseball and disagrees with any suggestion that Marte’s value has somehow been erased by the suspension, among other points.
- Marte might be the best player (at the time of his punishment) to ever receive a suspension for performance enhancing drug use, writes The Ringer’s Ben Lindbergh. Lindbergh profiles the numerous reasons that Marte has flown under the radar as one of Major League Baseball’s most underrated and unheralded stars in recent years, though certainly now that view will be tainted in the eyes of many. As Lindberg adds, there’s a cascading effect of Marte’s suspension, in that the downturn in the Pirates’ expected performance will now make a trade of McCutchen and, eventually, a promotion of Meadows all the more likely.