The only pitfalls in Yankees, Mets pursuing Starling Marte: Sherman

Both the Yankees and Mets are interested in Starling Marte. And why not? 

In a sport that defies hits better than ever, Marte was one of just 14 qualified batters to reach a .300 average — finishing sixth in the majors at .310.

Marte stole 47 bases — seven more than anyone else in the majors — and succeeded at a 90.4 percent clip (the major league average was 76 percent). 

So, Marte hit .310 with 47 steals. No player has reached those levels since 2016. You know who was the last to do it? That would be Starling Marte.

He also played the sixth-most innings in center field in 2021 and was an above average fielder based on both outs above average (Baseball Savant) and Fangraphs’ overall defensive metric.

The Marlins tried to extend Marte during the season, initially offered a two-year deal, then tried three late. But it was not enough and so Miami traded Marte to Oakland at the deadline. From July 29 (his first game with his new team) till the end of the season, Marte led the contending A’s in Wins Above Replacement (2.0).

The Marlins are again trying to secure Marte — always a good indicator that a club that knows a player well wants him back. 

So again, what’s not to like?

Since both New York clubs are — at minimum — examining Marte, as well as the Astros and others, let’s dig into what the concerns would be.

The Mets and Yankees both have interest in Starling Marte.
The Mets and Yankees both have interest in Starling Marte.
Getty Images

1. Marte was suspended 80 games in 2017 for violating MLB’s PED rules. The worry would be that his results were elevated by steroids.

But if we assume that Marte has played clean since then — a big assumption, obviously — then he has been the same player after his suspension as before. The righty-swinger’s slash line prior to his suspension: .288/.344/.466 in 2,514 plate appearances. His slash line since .290/.347/.457 in 2,248 plate appearances.

2 .Marte had a .369 batting average on balls in play this year, the second highest among qualified hitters. That usually suggests artificial inflation of batting average. But there are speed/contact players such as Tim Anderson, Trea Turner and Marte who seem to defy some of that.

And it would seem even if Marte returns to a more league-average result, his batting average will still fall into an above-average bandwidth of .275-.295. What do clubs think of Marte’s career-best 8.2 percent walk rate, which helped him to a career-best .381 on-base percentage? If you believe in that, then a loss of batting average is still countered well with the combination of on-base skills and speed; since many walks can turn into the equivalent of a double with a stolen base.

The Mets and Yankees both have interest in Starling Marte.
The Mets and Yankees both have interest in Starling Marte.
AP

3. Marte will play at 33 years old next year. This is the biggest issue. Only two players 33 or older started even 30 games in center in 2021: Brett Gardner had 92 with the Yankees and Lorenzo Cain 69 with the Brewers.

Marte’s age 29-32 profile has lots of similarities with Cain and Hunter Pence, among others. Cain signed a five-year, $90 million contract with Milwaukee before his age-32 season and was strong in that age-32 season, but his health and production have not been as good since. Pence signed a five-year, $90 million extension with the Giants in September 2013 that covered his age-31-35 seasons. His results were like Cain: strong initially, but by 33 diminishing in health and results.

Because Marte has good, but not above-average power and not great average exit velocities, so much of his game is tied to his legs — stealing bases and defending in center, or eventually on this contract a corner outfield. A signing team would hope that Marte would age like players with a somewhat similar skill set such as Steve Finley, Rickey Henderson, Kenny Lofton and Tim Raines.

At the plate, Marte has similarities in high batting average, low strikeouts and good on-base skills to a righty version of the Astros’ Michael Brantley, though with more speed and — for now at least — the ability to play center. In fact, Marte fits the Astros’ offensive profile that limits swings and misses. Houston is likely to lose free-agent shortstop Carlos Correa, who had a 131 OPS-plus in 2021. One way to go with lesser cost and offense at shortstop would be to find a bat elsewhere, and you know who else had a 131 OPS-plus last year? Yep, Marte.

The Yankees, in particular, have to consider the age questions. They already have Aaron Hicks, the center fielder they are looking to possibly move off the position, signed through 35. Giancarlo Stanton, if you consider him an outfielder, is signed through 37. Aaron Judge turns 30 in April and is entering his walk year, so if the Yanks extend him at some point, a contract will carry well into his thirties.

 So what would a contract for Marte look like?

I would assume that the $18 million annual average of Cain and Pence provide a concept. Teams will want to limit this to three years (through age-35). Marte will want four. Is the compromise a three-year, $60 million ($20 million average) with an option that makes it four at $72 million ($18 million average) if triggered? My guess is a team willing to go four guaranteed years wins this.

Will the Mets, Yankees or some other club be willing to do that?

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