While shortstop should be the Yankees’ top priority this offseason, center field is an important position to address as well. Aaron Hicks, who the Yankees signed to a long-term extension a few years ago, has been unable to remain on the field due to a myriad of injuries. Yes, he’s currently healthy and headed to winter ball, but the Bombers could use some insurance, or someone who can bump Hicks into a fourth outfielder role. That’s where Starling Marte comes in.
The Yankees have been connected to Marte on multiple occasions over the years. Once again, the team is in on him now that he’s a free agent. Here’s what you need to know about Marte and his potential fit in New York:
The just-turned-33 year-old Marte hails from the Dominican Republic, where the Pirates scouted and signed him when he was an international amateur free agent nearly 15 years ago. Pittsburgh paid the center fielder an $85,000 bonus way back in 2007.
Slowly but surely, Marte climbed Pittsburgh’s minor league rungs. The center fielder played in the DSL until 2009, the year first played stateside. He really put himself on the map with a stellar season in Single-A, recording a 135 wRC+ and 24 stolen bases in just 54 games. Baseball America ranked him Pittsburgh’s sixth-best prospect that offseason.
Marte performed well once again in 2010, this time primarily in High-A, but took the minors by storm at Double-A in 2011. He started to hit for more power while maintaining his high stolen base totals, and ultimately, landed on BA’s Top 100 for the first time after the season. He then started 2012 in Triple-A, but eventually got the big league call up for good.
Since I already wrote about Marte as a trade target just a few months ago, I’m going to insert what I wrote back before the trade deadline below. Afterwards, I’ll provide a brief update for the rest of his 2021 season.
The righty/righty center fielder debuted for Pittsburgh in 2012 and remained there through 2019 before an offseason trade sent him to Arizona. While in the Steel City, Marte batted .287/.341/.452 (116 wRC+), stole 239 bases, and accumulated 24.0 fWAR in 953 games. However, his numbers were a tad better prior to serving an 80-game suspension in 2017 under the league’s performance enhancing drug policy. Not markedly better, though:
2012 – 2016: .289/.345/.447, 120 wRC+
2017 – 2019: .284/.334/.458, 109 wRC+
He really only exhibited a downturn in that 2017 season (91 wRC+), but otherwise, Marte was remarkably consistent in Pittsburgh before a trade to the Diamondbacks in January 2020.
The trade was far from the biggest upheaval in Marte’s life last year, though. He tragically lost his wife to a heart attack while waiting for surgery on a broken ankle that May. Just horrible. I don’t know how he went on the play last season, but he did. Perhaps the delayed start to the season made it a bit easier for him to take the time he needed away from the field with his family (he has three kids).
Marte got off to a hot start once the season began in 2020. He hit .311/.384/.443 (123 wRC+) before Arizona sent him to the upstart Marlins. Marte struggled post-trade (.245/.286/.415, 92 wRC+), but has rebounded this year around a rib fracture. To date, Marte owns a .331/.429/.534 (170 wRC+) batting line, has five homers, and has swiped 8 bags.
Defensively, Marte didn’t become a full-time center fielder until 2018 (the first year without Andrew McCutchen in Pittsburgh). He primarily played left, though he did spend some time in center before. Marte grades out very well in center field per Statcast, at +17 outs above average since 2018. He’s at +3 this season.
Oakland wound up acquiring Marte at the deadline and he continued his strong season out west. After posting a .305/.405/.451 (138 wRC+) batting line in Miami, he closed his campaign with a .316/.359/.466 (130 wRC+) triple-slash in the Bay.
His center field defense took a dip with the A’s, per Statcast. I wouldn’t read too much into that, though. He recorded -2 OAA for Oakland after +5 for Miami, though by all accounts, he’s still quite good out there. If there’s any concern about his longevity in center field, it’s due to his age (33). Yet, Marte still posts very strong sprint speeds (83rd percentile in 2021), which is a good proxy for the athleticism required to play in center field.
Nothing new to add here since I last wrote about Marte:
As mentioned, Marte spent time on the injured list this season with a rib fracture. He was absent after playing on April 18th until returning on May 28th.
Marte’s injury history isn’t too bad otherwise. He dealt with a sprained wrist and and abdomen contusion in 2019, missing 29 days combined. In 2018, he spent the minimum 10 days on the injured list with an oblique strain. His only other injured list stints ocurred in 2016 (back tightness) and 2013 (finger).
Does he make sense for the Yankees?
Yes, but ideally on a short-term deal. Signing a center fielder to a contract that takes him to age 37, as the above estimates would, isn’t something I’d think the Yankees are keen to do. Sure, it only costs money to sign Marte, whereas better long-term fits like Bryan Reynolds or Ketel Marte via trade will cost prospects, but keep in mind that Starling may need to be in an outfield corner sooner than later.
If the Yankees could get Marte on, say, a two-year deal? Terrific. Then the Yankees can either retain prospects earmarked for a Reynolds or Ketel Marte deal, or they can trade them for another position of need.
Ultimately, the Yankees do need to address center field for 2022, and there’s no denying that Starling represents an excellent solution. Aaron Hicks, who’s healthy and about to play winter ball, still can’t necessarily be counted on. He’s played in just 38 percent of team games since 2019.