The Diamondbacks were handsomely rewarded when they last dealt for a player named Marte. It seems they’re doubling down on that strategy. The Snakes have reportedly struck a deal to acquire outfielder Starling Marte from the Pirates. High-upside youngsters Liover Peguero and Brennan Malone are going back in return, along with $250K in international spending money moving to Pittsburgh. The Pirates will also pay down $1.5M of Marte’s remaining obligations.
It’s another fascinating gambit from the Arizona front office in what has been a perhaps unexpectedly aggressive winter. When the offseason opened, there was more talk of trading Robbie Ray than of pushing to dethrone the Dodgers in the NL West, but Ray remains with the club. After dealing away Zack Greinke at the 2019 trade deadline, the D-backs have now added multiple veteran pieces to the roster — including veteran hurler Madison Bumgarner — and seem poised to contend.
In making this swap, the Diamondbacks add a consistently above-average offensive performer who is fresh off a robust .295/.342/.503 slash with 23 homers, 31 doubles, six triples and 25 steals in 586 plate appearances in his final season with the Pirates. The 31-year-old Marte has been at least 12 percent better than a league-average hitter in every season dating back to 2013, with the exception of 2017, by measure of wRC+. He doesn’t walk much but also boasts a low strikeout rate (16 percent in 2019) and high-end baserunning value.
If there are questions about the now-former Pirates center fielder, they center around his glovework. Marte won a pair of Gold Gloves with the Buccos back in 2015-16, but that was when he was playing left field alongside a still-in-his-prime Andrew McCutchen in center. Marte took over center field on a full-time basis in 2018 and delivered above-average to excellent marks in Defensive Runs Saved (+1), Ultimate Zone Rating (+3.2) and Outs Above Average (+10). However, those metrics soured on his skills across the board in 2019 (-9 DRS, -7.6 UZR, +2 OAA).
That 2019 downturn notwithstanding, Marte now seems poised to step in to an everyday center field role in Arizona, thus allowing rising star Ketel Marte to settle in at second base on a full-time basis. The pair should anchor a revamped Arizona lineup that has already gained Kole Calhoun and Stephen Vogt this winter. Marte — the prospective new acquisition, that is — is earning $11.5M in 2020. Because Pittsburgh is paying $1.5M of that sum, he’ll tack another $10M onto the 2020 payroll for the D-backs. He’s controllable for another season through a $12.5M club option that can alternatively be bought out for $1M.
That contract was a major part of Marte’s appeal. He signed it back in the spring of 2014 — a hopeful time for him and the Pirates organization. Things didn’t quite develop according to plan, though both player and team found success at times. Marte sat out for half of the 2017 season due to a violation of the league’s PED policy. The Bucs had three straight wild-card appearances (2013-15) but haven’t been back to the postseason since.
The situation in Pittsburgh reached a boiling point after a highly disappointing 2019 campaign that significantly downgraded the team’s near-term outlook. This move represents the first major decision for a new leadership team — president Travis Williams, GM Ben Cherington and manager Derek Shelton — that was installed after the offseason was already underway.
It’s not especially surprising to see Marte on the move. He sat atop our most recent ranking of the top trade candidates in baseball. Given the rough seas the Bucs had sailed upon of late, it made good sense for the organization to cash in the veteran and set the looking glass to the horizon.
Cherington is hunting for gold with this move. Both of the young players acquired are seen as possessing massive ceilings, but they’re also still a long ways off. While it’s tough to glean too much from a singular trade, it’s nevertheless notable that the newly minted Pirates’ baseball ops boss opted for high-ceiling teenagers who aren’t close to MLB-ready rather than focusing on players who could make an impact in 2020 or 2021. That’s not to say that the Pirates did poorly in their return, but it's perhaps a hint that Cherington and his staff believe the timeline to contention isn’t exactly a short one. Baseball America and FanGraphs each graded both Peguero and Malone among the top 10 prospects in an Arizona farm that has drawn increasing praise for its depth of quality talent.
The 19-year-old Peguero split this past season between the rookie-level Pioneer League and the short-season Class-A Northwest League, hitting a combined .326/.382/.485 with five homers, 11 doubles, five triples and 11 steals in 249 plate appearances. Kiley McDaniel and Eric Longenhagen favorably compare him to Jean Segura in their scouting report, noting astonishingly similar body types and quick hands at the plate; however, they also tout him as a potentially superior defender to Segura.
Malone, also 19, was the 33rd overall pick in this past year’s draft. He draws praise for a heater that has topped out at 99 mph, a plus slider and another pair of potentially average offerings in his curve and changeup. Like Peguero, he’s years from making an impact in the big leagues but possesses a notable ceiling on which the Pirates can dream.
John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7 (via Twitter) reported that the sides were closing in on a deal. Jon Heyman of MLB Network (via Twitter) reported it was done. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (via Twitter), Robert Murray (Twitter link), Heyman (in a tweet) and Gambadoro (via Twitter) had details.