Do you think the Pirates might trade Starling Marte this offseason? He’s the best thing we have to offer now that Felipe Vazquez is off the table, so maybe we could get the young starting pitching we need for him and put Bryan Reynolds in center field.
-- Colin K., Pittsburgh
It’s a great question, Colin, because I would agree that Marte is their best trade chip. I’ve asked around a little bit over the last few weeks, and the people I’ve heard from within the industry currently expect that Marte will begin next season with the Pirates.
I would expect the same at this point, though every situation if fluid, and most of these things tend to come into clearer focus after executives meet at the GM Meetings and Winter Meetings. The Pirates haven’t made their stance clear, because nobody in management has commented on anything since the dismissal of Clint Hurdle.
The Pirates will certainly exercise Marte’s $11.5 million club option for next season; his contract also includes a $12.5 million option for 2021. Since they don’t seem to have any interest in a full-scale rebuild, it’s likely that they will begin next year with Marte in center field, probably batting third behind Kevin Newman and Bryan Reynolds.
It would be in character for the front office to pursue a trade before Marte’s final year of club control, however, like they did with Andrew McCutchen -- which means a deal could be realistic as soon as the 2020 Trade Deadline.
They think Reynolds can handle center, by the way, but they know he’s better in a corner -- and it essentially takes two center fielders to cover left and center at PNC Park anyway. Plus, moving Reynolds to center would just create another hole in the outfield, which already has one significant question mark in the form of the still-rehabbing Gregory Polanco.
Marte often seems to be underappreciated locally because of his occasional (and increasingly rare) mental lapses, but you’ll miss him when he’s gone. If not for his season-ending wrist injury, we would have spent more time last month appreciating the year he had.
In his age-30 season, Marte slashed .295/.342/.503 with a career-high 23 homers, a career-high 82 RBIs and 25 steals, while only being thrown out six times. Some defensive metrics were oddly down on his work in center field, but he certainly passed the eye test. He was worth two Outs Above Average, according to Statcast, and he graded out among the game’s best in both sprint speed and outfielders’ jump.
After coming off the injured list on April 30, Marte started all but five of the Pirates’ games until he sprained his wrist on Sept. 8. He started every game in center field from June 18-Sept. 3, which is remarkable in today’s game.
If and when the Pirates decide to move Marte, they’ll likely find a handful of suitors for one of their most valuable players. The Braves could make room for him in their outfield. The Padres would welcome a true center fielder like him. The Blue Jays could reinforce their young roster with a veteran outfielder who offers more than one year of club control. Or hey, how about a reunion with McCutchen in Philadelphia?
What will Adam Frazier’s role be next season? Will he lose his job to Cole Tucker?
-- Karen C., Indianapolis, Ind.
At this point, I would pencil in Frazier as the starting second baseman, with Tucker likely coming off the bench as a middle infielder to begin the season. Frazier may not be a star, and he’s coming off a decidedly average season offensively, but he ranks low on the Pirates’ list of concerns.
After seemingly breaking out in the second half of 2018, Frazier had a slash line of .278/.336/.417 with 10 homers (same as ’18) and 50 RBIs this past season while leading the team in games played (152) and finishing second behind Josh Bell in plate appearances (608).
Maybe that’s just who Frazier is offensively – his slash line from 2016-18 was a similar-looking .280/.345/.422 – but he showed enough in late ’18 to make you believe there’s more power in there, especially under the guidance of hitting coaches Rick Eckstein and Jacob Cruz. Maybe he’ll show he’s capable of more at age 28 in 2020, even if he never reclaims the leadoff spot from Newman.
One thing Frazier proved this year is that he can handle second base on a daily basis. He finished second on the team in defensive runs saved (six) via FanGraphs’ all-encompassing defensive metric, and he ranked third among all qualified second basemen with a .989 fielding percentage. The Pirates have defensive issues at the corners, but they’re fine up the middle.
I feel the coaching changes made recently by the Pirates were needed and justifiable. But I also feel the Chris Archer trade set the organization back a few more years on the road to, I dare say, another World Series. Clearly, Archer had what will have been his best years in Tampa. My question for you is, shouldn’t someone in the Pirates organization be held responsible for the continued fallout of this horrendous trade, or is our organizational front office/scouting really that bad in that simply no one knew any better nor is deserving of any blame?
-- Todd F.
Definitely a valid question -- not just about the Archer trade, but the Gerrit Cole deal as well. The Pirates will feel the repercussions of those moves for years, and it’s magnified in a smaller market like Pittsburgh, where the front office is dependent upon drafting, developing and making smart trades. (On the flip side, look at how much Milwaukee benefitted from the deal for Christian Yelich or how Tampa Bay fortified its roster with Tyler Glasnow, Austin Meadows and Shane Baz.)
Deals like that make you wonder about their ability to evaluate other organizations, but more importantly, to properly assess their own talent. They still hit on some moves – they got a lot of value out of the McCutchen deal, for instance -- but the significant misses are only magnified by a shrinking payroll.
Thus far, nobody that we’re aware of has been held accountable for those trades in terms of losing their jobs. Management said there would be a full-scale evaluation of their baseball operations department this offseason, but we haven’t heard anything about that process either.
Not a satisfying answer, I know, but it’s where things stand now.