Five years ago, the out-of-contention Yankees traded their star pending free agent, Aroldis Chapman, to the Cubs for a nice prospect haul—easily recouping what they initially dealt to get him—then signed Chapman to a long-term deal the following offseason. Taking a page out of their playbook, the Marlins are expressing interest in a Starling Marte reunion, according to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman, just three-and-a-half months after shipping him to the Athletics.
Marte played brilliantly for the 2020-2021 Marlins, slashing .286/.370/.440 with a 124 wRC+ and 3.6 fWAR in 92 games. He registered the highest max exit velocity of his career this past season, barreled the ball more frequently than ever and easily set a new personal best in walk rate. Oh yeah, and he led the majors with 47 stolen bases.
Despite being relatively old for a free agent center fielder (turned 33 in October), Marte is understandably appealing. Each of the 30 MLB teams would be improved with him on their roster. The midseason trade made him ineligible to receive (and reject) a qualifying offer—he’ll cost lots of cash, but no compensatory draft picks. Many have already touched base with his representatives just like the Marlins did, per Heyman, including the Phillies, Mets and Yankees.
The Marlins played their final 60 regular season games without Starling, using a combination of Magneuris Sierra, Lewis Brinson and trade acquisition Bryan De La Cruz in center. They had a .383 winning percentage in those contests (.431 prior to that). Sierra has since been dismissed from the organization. Brinson could soon face the same fate leading up to the MLB non-tender deadline. De La Cruz’s first impression with the Fish was genuinely encouraging, though he lacks the prototypical defensive range of a center fielder. Also, he has minor league options remaining that the Marlins could exercise to make way for an established player of Marte’s caliber.
Since the post-Marte era began, prospects Peyton Burdick and JJ Bleday have taken steps to demonstrate their major league readiness. Burdick earned a September promotion to Triple-A Jacksonville and Bleday has been among the most productive players in the Arizona Fall League. Even so, Kim Ng has been straightforward about her plan to assign both of them to Jax for the 2022 season and take it from there. In the meantime, the front office is shopping for immediate outfield reinforcements.
Circling back to the famous Chapman transaction sequence, one kinda important detail that’s worth mentioning: it required a $86 million commitment on the tail end from the Yankees. Baseball insiders Steve Phillips ($88 million) and Jim Bowden ($104 million) project Marte to command even more than that. The internet’s median projection, however, is for just four years and $69 million guaranteed via Jon Becker’s MLB Matrices. Awfully similar to the “fair price” that I discussed in June!
As the Miami Herald’s Craig Mish reported on extensively during the season, Marte prefers to live and work in South Florida. That factor could come into play again if the Marlins make an offer that is somewhat comparable to those he’ll be getting from other suitors. I’m skeptical, but at least this a step in the right direction.