Flying somewhat under the radar this weekend – understandable given the scope of the fallout from the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal – was a report by MLB insider Robert Murray that the Mets and Pittsburgh Pirates have once again engaged in talks centered on Starling Marte, though he said no deal was imminent.
New Pirates GM Ben Cherington has been aggressively shopping Marte throughout the offseason, but were last connected to the Mets in late December. Reports at the time were that Brodie Van Wagenen was willing to part with Brandon Nimmo, but the Pirates were seeking more prospect-type players. This was seemingly a sticking point for an organization whose minor league depth has been ravaged by multiple buying trades.
Brian Joura ran a poll on this site in late December in which an overwhelming 80% of Mets360 readers indicated they would not want the Mets to acquire Marte because he won’t be worth what the asking price will be. To their credit, the Mets walked away when they felt Pittsburgh was asking for too much. Now that we are a month shy of spring training, perhaps the Pirates asking price for the 2016 All-Star and 2x Gold Glove Award winner.
Big additions being busts have made fans risk-averse, but given a fair exchange trading for the 31-year-old Marte is be a savvy move which could help put the Mets over the top in 2020 and back in the playoffs.
Also in late December, FanGraphs posted the 2020 ZiPS projections for the Mets roster. It sees the team essentially being what it was last year – in the mid-80s in wins. It is also fairly easy to identify three major areas where it would be easy for the Mets to improve – left field, second base (Robinson Cano projects for just 1.6 fWAR), and catcher (which Dalton Allison wrote about the other day).
In a world where a potential Marte acquisition doesn’t cost the Mets Nimmo or J.D. Davis, this helps the Mets immediately improve in left. Extending back to his days as a prospect Nimmo has defensively profiled as a corner outfielder. In his one healthy season in the bigs, he proved he has the bat to justify a move to the corner, and defensive metrics think it’s a good idea as well. Nimmo’s career UZR/150 in center is -9.9, while it is 3.2 in left. Marte is -1.2 in center for his career in UZR/150, a significant upgrade.
Nimmo sliding into left allows Davis to shift to third base, freeing up Jeff McNeil to play more second base and act as a Ben Zobrist-type utility man. Obviously that would coincide with less playing time for Cano. There are obviously other logistical concerns – such as managing potential playing time for Jed Lowrie, Yoenis Cespedes and Dominic Smith. But there is no counting on Lowrie, Cespedes, or even Cano being able to stay healthy for an entire season, so to not upgrade both your starting lineup and depth because of that is silly.
Naturally this is built on many assumptions – not the least of which is that the Mets would be okay with giving Cano a lesser role when healthy given his contract – but it makes the 2020 Mets a better and deeper team. And as Brian Joura said in an article last week – the Mets just need their bench to not suck, a problem solved with more good depth.
But what would Marte actually bring at age 31? ZiPS has not released its 2020 Pirates projections yet, but Steamer calls for a .287/.336/.468 slash line and 2.9 fWAR, which is essentially right in line with his career averages. If he is able to fall in line with those expectations, he is a worthwhile addition to the club, helping to improve the team by 1-1.5 wins, depending on how the rest of the dominoes fall. It might not sound like a lot, but as 2007 and 2008 proved – one game can be all the difference.
On the defensive side he lacks in range, but makes up for it with a great arm and steady glove, and his speed and baserunning ability is still a factor. He has stolen at least 25 bases in every season since 2013, with the exception of 2017 when he swiped 21 in 77 games. As much as I want to stick to qualitative analysis, there is no denying that Marte is an exciting player in a sport that sometimes lacks excitement.
If the Mets are serious about wanting to contend for the playoffs and even the World Series in 2020, they will pay more than lip service to a potential Marte trade. The Washington Nationals may have lost Anthony Rendon, but the Braves and Phillies have both taken big steps toward improving for this season, while the Mets have hung their hats on marginal improvements. While not a huge splash, bringing in Marte would be an impact addition which could catapult the team into legit division contenders.
The question is always about what the Pirates are going to ask for in return, which will likely include Andres Gimenez or Brett Baty as the headliners. If the Mets feel that Amed Rosario is for sure the long-term solution at shortstop, then by all means Gimenez as the headliner is not an unreasonable ask. As long as the rest of the deal passes muster the Mets should do it.