One way or another, it seems, Starling Marte would prefer to play for a contending team next season.
The Pirates haven’t publicly stated their plan for 2020, whether they intend to keep their current core intact or rebuild for the future under new general manager Ben Cherington. But following a management makeover with new president Travis Williams, Cherington and new manager Derek Shelton, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if the Pirates now overhaul their Major League roster and focus on improving their farm system.
The current uncertainty creates speculation, however, like the report from MLB Network insider Jon Heyman that the Mets would be interested in acquiring Marte. And that speculation leads to questions like the one recently posed to Marte in his native Dominican Republic.
In an interview recorded by sports journalist Hector Gomez, Marte was asked about the possibility of being traded to the Mets. He acknowledged that Pittsburgh controls his future after picking up his $11.5 million club option for next year, but he indicated that he’s open to a trade after spending his entire professional career with the Pirates.
“If it was for me, I will leave for a team that is ready to compete right now [for] a World Series, and that’s not our case,” Marte said, according to a translation tweeted by Gomez. “The Mets are in position to do that, and it will be an honor to play with them. If it doesn’t happen, I will keep working hard and giving my team all I have.”
That is a long way from requesting a trade. Marte went out of his way, in fact, to say he’ll play hard for the Pirates. And it’s not exactly controversial for Marte to suggest that the Pirates -- who lost 93 games as well as ace Jameson Taillon (Tommy John surgery) and All-Star closer Felipe Vazquez (arrested) this year before parting ways with their president, GM, manager, assistant GM, bench coach and pitching coach -- won’t be listed among the favorites to win the 2020 World Series.
The Pirates don’t have many players who would yield a legitimate haul on the trade market, the kind that would expedite a rebuilding process. But if the Bucs want to add talent to their system at the expense of a handful of wins in 2020, they can do so by dealing Marte. As MLB.com’s Matt Kelly explored in late October, this might be the best time for Pittsburgh to consider trading him.
Marte is an appealing option for teams in need of outfield help. The 31-year-old is a two-time Gold Glove Award winner in left field, and the underlying Statcast metrics -- like his high-end sprint speed and outfielder jump -- represent his elite athleticism better than most advanced defensive metrics.
Offensively, Marte has only put together one season with an adjusted OPS+ below the league average -- and that was in 2017, when he received an 80-game suspension for using a performance-enhancing substance. This year was arguably Marte’s best at the plate, as he slashed .295/.342/.503 with 23 homers, 82 RBIs and 25 steals in 132 games.
In summary: He’s a top-of-the-order hitter with power and speed who can capably handle center field or dominate in a corner spot while adding value with his strong throwing arm, and he’s due a reasonable $11.5 million next year with a $12.5 million club option for 2021. Additionally, this is an offseason light on upper-level free-agent center fielders, which means more teams should turn to the trade market -- and greater demand would only improve the Pirates’ potential return.
Which teams would make sense for Marte? Let’s take a look.
- The Mets are reportedly interested in Marte, and Marte is apparently interested in them as well. They could use a true center fielder and a right-handed hitter, so Marte is a natural fit. Do they have the prospects necessary to swing such a deal? We’ll find out.
- The Blue Jays have plenty of financial flexibility and an obvious need in center field after using seven players there last season. Marte would represent a clear upgrade over Teoscar Hernandez, and he’d be a dynamic presence with experience to complement Toronto’s crop of budding young stars.
- The Rangers already added starter Kyle Gibson as they prepare to open a new ballpark next year, and Marte offers a more potent bat than Delino DeShields. Texas has a long way to go to catch up with Houston and Oakland in the American League West, but Marte would help.
- The Reds are clearly all-in on the next few years, a notion reinforced by their reported signing of infielder Mike Moustakas, so why not add a difference-maker like Marte in center?
- The Cubs aren’t looking to add payroll, which might take them out of the running unless they get creative, but they could stand to upgrade from Albert Almora Jr. Dealing Marte within the National League Central might not be so painful for the Pirates if they’re admitting that their competitive window won’t be open during his two remaining years of club control.
- The Phillies made their big splashes last winter, but they could reunite Marte with Andrew McCutchen alongside Bryce Harper in the outfield.
The rest: The Braves have a loaded farm system that would surely intrigue the Pirates. The Padres seemingly filled their outfield need by acquiring Trent Grisham to platoon with their plethora of existing right-handed options, but Marte is a more proven option.
There would be no shortage of suitors for Marte. But the most important question remains unanswered: Are the Pirates ready to move him?