Starling Marte

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Free Agent Friday

Starling Marte (Stephen J. Nesbitt)

On November 3rd, 2021, the Oakland Athletics let Starling Marte walk in free agency. Later on in the month, as has become somewhat common among former Athletics, Marte signed a 4-year, $78 million contract with the New York Mets. Many fans will remember Marte as an excellent trade deadline acquisition who performed well in limited playing time with the athletics in 2021. In order to truly understand his impact, however, we need to look back at his career in total.

In 2006, Starling Marte was signed to the Pittsburgh Pirates organization as an International Free Agent. He wouldn’t play for the Pirates organization until 2007, where he somewhat underperformed, hitting a .220/.307/.288 slash while moving around the outfield. Though his hitting was much to be desired, his famous speed on the basepaths was already starting to show itself, as he stole 16 bases on an 88% stolen base %.

2008 would be a good turnaround for Marte as he would hit a .296/.367/.455 slash in his second season in the Dominican Summer League and being named a Post-Season All-Star. Following this promising performance, Starling was brought stateside for the 2009 season and spend most of year in Single-A with the West Virginia Power. He would have another great season, hitting a .312/.377/.439 slash while stealing 24 bases in Single-A. Following another excellent performance, he would be called up to High-A for the 2010 season.

Marte would have a nearly identical year to 2009 in 2010 with the Bradenton Marauders in High-A. 2011 would see Starling Marte called up to the Altoona Curve in Double-A, where he would have his minor league breakout. Where before he showed his ability as a slap hitter, in 2011 Starling added a bit of power to his hitting with a career high 12 HRs and a .500 SLG. This increase in power also coincided in a career high .332 AVG.

Needless to say, this breakout led to one of Starling Marte’s most heavily accoladed seasons. He would be named an Eastern League All-Star in both the regular and postseason by both the league as well as by Baseball America and Topps. This would also be the first of two times where Marte would be named an MiLB.com Organization All-Star. Before 2012, Starling would be named a consensus top-100 prospect with the highest rating coming from MLB.com at 40th.

Starling Marte would be called up to Triple-A for the 2012 season and would have another great season hitting a .286/.347/.500 slash and making the All-Star team. Unable to ignore their potential superstar anymore, the Pirates called him up to the majors on July 26th, 2012. Unfortunately for Marte, because the Pirates had an MVP candidate in Center already (McCutchen), Marte was moved over to Left Field to start his career. It didn’t seem to bother him that much, as he would hit a home run off of the first pitch he saw as a major leaguer against then-rookie Dallas Keuchel.

He would finish off the season in the MLB hitting a solid .257/.300/.437 slash in 182 plate appearances in 2012. Following 2012, Starling Marte would remain a consistent MLB caliber player. From 2012-2016, he would hit a .289/.345/.447 slash and capitalize on his speed, stealing an average of 30 bases a year on an approximately 75% success rate. He would continue to play in left field during this time alongside McCutchen and dominate at the position with a peak UZR of 7.7 in 2015 due mostly to his excellent arm at the position.

This solid performance at the MLB level would peak in 2016, when Marte would hit a .311/.362/.456 slash, make the All-Star team, and win his second Gold Glove in a row. Coincidently, this year would end up being McCutchen’s worst of his career, both at the plate and especially in the field with a -14.5 Range Runs Above Average. With confidence in Starling at the highest in his career, the Pirates were probably looking forward to the 2017 season to see who would be the future in Center Field.

Unfortunately, Starling Marte would be caught with the PED Nandrolone and miss half of the 2017 season. After coming back, while playing up to his standards in terms of fielding, baserunning, and hitting for average, Starling would hit a career low .379 SLG in half a season at the majors. After the season was over, McCutchen would move to San Francisco and Marte would take over full-time in Center Field.

2018 and 2019 would be a bounce back to form for Marte as he would hit a .286/.335/.481 slash over those two seasons including a possibly career best year in 2019 where he hit a career high .845 OPS. Unfortunately, he would struggle a bit in the field during that time.

While he still had a fantastic arm that could make up for his other weaknesses, like McCutchen, his range could not really keep up in CF during this time with a -2.6 and -9.5 Range Runs Above Average in 2018 and 2019 respectively. Though his base stealing ability was still there (though not with nearly the same volume), the Pirates in general struggled to win, ending up 4th in the Central in 2018 (though with a winning record) and bottoming out in 2019 with 69 wins.

Following a disappointing 2019, Starling Marte was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks along with cash for 2019 1st round pick Brennan Malone and top-100 prospect Liover Peguero. He would perform well for the D-Backs, hitting a .311/.384/.443 slash, before being traded to the Marlins for starter Caleb Smith, fringe major leaguer Humberto Mejia, and prospect Julio Frias. Starling wouldn’t perform as well at the plate with the Marlins to finish up the 2020 season, hitting a .245/.286/.415 slash. However, 2020 would see his first solid season in CF, with a total UZR of only -0.1 in limited playing time.

Starling Marte would start off the 2021 with the Marlins and perform spectacularly, hitting a .305/.405/.451 slash. The Marlins looked to sign him to a $30 million extension, but Marte ended up rejecting the deal, expecting more in the offseason. Due to this, he was traded straight up for promising, but struggling, starter Jesus Luzardo.

He would continue where he left off in Miami, hitting a .316/.359/.466 slash for the A’s. His fielding in CF would also improve from 2019 and 2020, by having a solid 0.9 UZR, with his great arm counteracting his below average range. On top of his great hitting and solid fielding in one of the toughest positions, Marte would steal a league leading 47 bases on an insane 90% success rate for that volume.

Unfortunately, like a lot of older great players for the Athletics organization, the A’s let Marte walk in free agency. Though it is hard to envision a scenario where the Athletics actually pay for one of the best free agents at their position, Starling Marte is definitely going to be missed by the organization. His overall talent is not easily replaceable, even with promising prospects like Cody Thomas a possible replacement.

Another tough pill to swallow with Starling is that, while he has gotten injured, he has played a majority of every season he has had in the MLB, outside out the suspension shortened 2017, and performance has rarely fallen off. Overall, Starling Marte is going to be a player that the Athletics will more than likely miss dearly.

Transaction and statistical data from Baseball Reference, MLB.com, and Fangraphs

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Micah Dahlvig

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