Starling Marte is one of the most underrated players in baseball. Once part of what many considered to be the best outfield in baseball alongside Andrew McCutchen and Gregory Polanco, over the years, the Pirates regressed big time as a team, and are easily projected to finish last in the NL Central.
For that reason, as the Pirates rebuild, it makes a ton of sense to trade Marte while he’s still in his prime, and his contract nears an end. We all know the Braves need another bat as well with the departure of Josh Donaldson, and rumors suggest that could come in the form of a third baseman or an outfielder, but that doesn’t automatically mean Marte is the perfect solution.
Questioning Marte’s talent is foolish. He is a popular trade candidate for a reason, but I have doubts about him in a cleanup role. Marte spent the majority of 2019 as the Pirates 3-hole hitter, which is a much better fit for him. He is a great all-around player who can field, hit for average, has plus speed, and provide some power as well. However, his mark of 23 home runs and his .845 OPS in 2019 were both career highs for him. It wasn’t that long ago (2016-2017) that he had consecutive seasons with a single-digit home run total, and he’s only had a slugging percentage of over .460 once, and that was last year (.503).
The Braves need is not necessarily a positional one, but a lineup one. They must find a cleanup hitter that can provide Freddie Freeman protection. Marte would help any major league club, is under a reasonable contract figure, and would not block prospects for long as he has a club option in his contract for 2021, which would almost certainly be exercised. He also will not cost nearly as much in terms of prospect capital as Kris Bryant or Nolan Arenado. With that said, the Braves could get more “pop” on the free agency market by signing a guy like Marcell Ozuna, Nick Castellanos, or Yasiel Puig, without losing any prospects.
Atlanta got by with Nick Markakis in the cleanup hole to win the NL East in 2018, but Freddie Freeman had a career year in 2019 for a reason: having real protection in the lineup. Perhaps they look to add the best positional player to the mix possible, which could very well be Marte. But he is not an ideal cleanup hitter, meaning Brian Snitker would have to shuffle things around, and that might mean moving Acuña back to the cleanup spot (Braves Twitter erupts). Contrary to popular belief, Acuña’s numbers were not much better batting leadoff than they were behind Freddie Freeman in 2019. Take a look:
Batting first: .280/.364/.528/.893
Batting fourth: .278/.373/.481/.854
As you can see, the only substantial difference is in slugging percentage, which can easily be attributed to the smaller sample size he had batting cleanup. If that’s the plan, a deal for Marte might be worth giving up some prospect capital and perhaps a guy like Ender Inciarte (to offset some of the cost and give him a new home where he can play). However, Marte himself is not the answer to protecting Freddie Freeman.