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2021 Marlins Season Preview: Starling Marte

The Marlins know what they’ll get from Starling Marte in 2021, but what do they do with him after?

MLB: Miami Marlins at Atlanta Braves Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

OF Starling Marte

Opening Day age: 32 | Bats: right | Throws: right | Listed at 6-1, 195 lbs.

Acquired by Marlins via trade from Diamondbacks (August 31, 2020)

There’s always a ton of discourse among Marlins fans about the future of the outfield. They were spoiled with the trio of Stanton, Ozuna and Yelich and now attempt to draw up dream combinations of young, athletic bats who they think will guide the team into a new dawn. In the best way possible, the outlook for 2022 and beyond is quite blurry due to a plethora of internal candidates.

But don’t forget about the present. Don’t forget about Starling Marte. The 32-year old Dominican center fielder was brought over in a deadline deal last season and has the best major league résumé on the roster. Despite not hitting like his usual self in 28 games with the Marlins (Marte slashed just .245/.286/.415/.701 with a 92 wRC+), he did have some big moments down the stretch to help guide the Fish to their first postseason berth in 17 years.

With established players like Marte you generally know what you’re going to get. The Marlins know he will anchor their outfield defensively, use his speed to create offense, and provide a well above average presence at the plate (career 116 wRC+)—that is desperately needed considering the inexperience that surrounds him in the lineup.

The Marlins have made clear that they’re not taking too much stock in such a short season last year, which is why picking up Marte’s $12.5 million club option was the biggest but easiest move of their offseason. Honestly, his overall numbers on the year were really solid anyway: .281/.340/.430/.770 slashline with a 109 wRC+ and 1.3 WAR. Stretch that out over 162 games and you’d end up at 3.4 WAR, right around Marte’s career norm.

Fish Stripes original GIF

Marlins General Manager Kim Ng outlined her thoughts on small sample sizes early in her tenure:

“When you look at a sample size that small, I think you have to be really careful about taking that as if it’s in have to look at a player’s track record. Whether that’s two seasons, three seasons, it depends.”

Along with shortstop (Miguel Rojas) and third base ( Brian Anderson), center field has been the only position where questions haven’t been asked this offseason. Marte will be the everyday center fielder and his place at the top of the order is probably the only one written in permanent marker as we enter the season,

Let’s take a quick look at what to expect from Marte and what the future could look like for him in Miami.

2021 Steamer projection: .272/.325/.434/.760, 19 HR, 23 SB, 102 wRC+, 2.2 WAR

2021 PECOTA projection (50th percentile): .267/.327/.418/.745, 15 HR, 21 SB, 105 DRC+, 2.6 WARP

Career (9 seasons): .287/.341/.450/.791, 116 wRC+, 25.3 WAR (2.8 average)

The projections are assuming that Marte’s best days are behind him. Even so, these numbers would still bring a burst of life to the Marlins lineup that is much needed. The bottom line is, barring an injury or unforeseen decline, he will be one of the Marlins’ best hitters and a key part of the team this year.

To me what is more interesting is what the Marlins do with him going forward. Marte is eligible to be a free agent this winter and will turn 33 following the regular season. The Marlins will have to make a decision based on Marte’s performance this year, as well as what’s behind him in the farm system. If the Marlins extend him, he could be a huge part of anchoring this team as more and more exciting young prospects start to crack the everyday lineup.

Marte isn’t a superstar—MLB Network doesn’t even rate him among the league’s current top 100 players—but if the young guys come up and he’s somewhere between your 3rd and 5th best hitter, you’re doing damn well. This is why I’ve said since the Marte trade that Miami should really consider offering him a 2-3 year extension. If you have Marte as the leader of your lineup as you continue to transition from one era to the next, that can be great for a lot of the young players the Marlins have coming.

The other thing is, while the Marlins do have plenty of outfield potential, Marte’s departure could create a hole in center. The ship has likely sailed on Magneuris Sierra and Lewis Brinson as potential everyday players. Monte Harrison and Víctor Víctor Mesa are the prospects with the most defensive capability to take over in center, but both have plenty to work on at the plate. Jesús Sánchez, JJ Bleday, Jerar Encarnación and Peyton Burdick all project better as corner outfielders. Despite his age, Marte could still be the best option they have in center beyond 2021.

What kind of money could Marte command on the open market? Consider Michael Brantley who was 33 this past offseason and has a lifetime 117 wRC+ (one point higher than Marte). He’s been a superior run producer in recent years, but falls far short of Marte in the defense and baserunning departments. Brantley got a 2 year/$32 million deal from the Astros. A really good year could vault Marte to an even larger guarantee.

Next year, Marte will once again be the biggest piece of internal business that the Marlins have to handle, except this time, the solution won’t be quite as obvious. So much depends on how the young outfield alternatives perform over the course of 2021 as well as the franchise’s financial well-being. Principal owner Bruce Sherman noted Monday that ownership is happy with the progress that’s been made toward finalizing their local TV deal, and that it should help the Marlins be able to spend more down the road.

While we wait and see how this critical year unfolds, let’s reminisce one more time about another great Starling Marte moment in a Marlins uniform.


Should Starling Marte play a big role on the Marlins beyond the 2021 season?

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