PHOENIX -- As Spring Training crept closer and closer, there was still one thing left on the offseason to-do list that D-backs general manager Mike Hazen had yet to check off: find a center fielder.
Hazen accomplished that Monday when the D-backs acquired Starling Marte from the Pirates.
Pittsburgh sent $1.5 million to Arizona and received right-handed prospect Brennan Malone and shortstop prospect Liover Peguero -- both members of the D-backs' Top 30 Prospects list -- along with $250,000 in international pool money for this signing period in return.
When the offseason began, the D-backs explored different avenues to find a center fielder so they would be able to play Ketel Marte primarily at second base in 2020. Hazen said that the team considers Ketel Marte a “Gold Glove caliber” second baseman, and pairing him with shortstop Nick Ahmed, who has won two straight Gold Glove Awards at the position, was enticing.
The D-backs talked with Japanese free agent Shogo Akiyama, who signed with Cincinnati, and they also had some discussions with the Pirates about Starling Marte just after Ben Cherington was hired as general manager in November.
D-backs get: OF Starling Marte, $1.5 million
Pirates get: RHP prospect Brennan Malone, SS prospect Liover Peguero, $250,000 in international pool money
The talk went away just after the Winter Meetings before picking up again in earnest 10 days ago.
“We think he’s a fantastic baseball player,” Hazen said of Starling Marte. “He has power, he can hit for average, he is a very good athlete, plays a very good outfield, center field as well.”
Marte is coming off his second straight 20-homer, 20-steal season. His 120 league-adjusted OPS+ in 2019 was his best since '14, and his 23 dingers were a career best.
Marte is owed $11.5 million this year, and his contract contains a $12.5 million club option (or a $1 million buyout) for 2021.
The D-backs won 85 games last season, and Hazen has done a nice job of rebuilding the farm system while also finding ways to keep the big league team in contention.
This offseason the D-backs signed free agent lefty Madison Bumgarner to a five-year, $85 million contract, with $15 million deferred. The team asked Bumgarner to take less money in 2020 -- he’s set to make $6 million -- and told him that it would do its best to spend the savings to improve the team.
In MLB Pipeline's most recent ranking of the D-backs' Top 30 Prospects late last season, Malone and Peguero ranked No. 9 and 18, respectively. Pipeline will be revealing its updated rankings of every farm system in the coming weeks, and both Malone and Peguero likely would have cracked the top 10 of the new D-backs list. Both players will make the top 10 of Pittsburgh's updated ranking, as the Pirates' farm system is not considered to be as deep as Arizona's.
The D-backs have done their best to infuse the organization with talent over the past year, trading Paul Goldschmidt and Zack Greinke in prospect-laden deals. They also had seven of the first 75 picks in last year’s MLB Draft.
Their pitching depth, as well as the presence of shortstop Geraldo Perdomo, who is ranked as the team’s No. 7 prospect, allowed them to part with Malone and Peguero.
Still, it was not a decision taken lightly.
“It was painful giving up the players we did ultimately give up,” Hazen said. “We just felt, as I’ve stated before, we have a duty to both the present and the future and we felt like we were going to have to give something good up in order to get a good Major League player. I felt like we did that here.”
With the Pirates in a transition phase, Marte had been the subject of trade rumors throughout most of the winter.
“I’m feeling really good,” Marte said. “Especially because now the uncertainty of not knowing where I was going to be is over and I’m happy to be with the Arizona Diamondbacks organization and to be able to get going.”