The Braves were right to pass on Starling Marte

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It seemed like from the beginning of the current offseason; there was a rather large crowd of Braves’ fans and writers that were persistently lobbying for the team to go after 31-year-old outfielder Starling Marte, who up until this past Monday, was a highly sought-after trade piece currently at the backend of a rather team-friendly deal. 

 

The former Pirate was traded this week as the surging Diamondbacks swooped in and dealt for the 2016 All-Star and two-time Gold Glover, by sending two prospects and $250,000 in international pool money for Marte’s services. And barring some crazy flip-job by the D-Backs at the deadline this year, Marte will play in Arizona for at least the 2020 season and most likely the ’21 season, with the latter year requiring activation of his $12.5 million club option ($2 million buyout). He provides the Snakes with a 3-4 WAR player that should help them better compete with the likes of the LA Dodgers for the next couple of seasons.

But it’s not like the Braves should feel snubbed. Not long after the Josh Donaldson sweepstakes finally ended — with him going north and signing with the Twins — Anthopoulos and the Braves quickly pivoted with a move of their own, landing free-agent outfielder Marcell Ozuna on an also surprisingly team-friendly contract (1 year, $18MM). Without delving too much into each transaction, I’d say the Braves came out better by choosing to go with Ozuna over Marte, if for no other reason than all the former cost was money and a short-term commitment; and judging by what I’ve seen over the last several days, it appears most Braves’ fans agree. 

So now that we have the luxury of hindsight and the wisdom that comes with knowing exactly what it took to acquire Marte, perhaps we can come somewhat close to assessing the Braves’ decision to look elsewhere. For example, we now know that it took Arizona’s prospects Brennan Malone (RHP) and Liover Peguero (SS), plus $250K to get the deal done. 

Malone was ranked as the D-Backs’ No. 10 prospect in FanGraphs’ most recent prospect report, pegged as a 45+ FV talent with a 55-60 grade slider and a mid-90s fastball that he occasionally runs up to 99 mph. Drafted as an 18-year-old last year, Malone primarily pitched in rookie ball in 2019, though he did get to make one relief appearance in short-season A-ball, posting a 5.14 ERA overall in ten total games (three of which were starts). Scouts have Malone projected as a potential mid-rotation starter, depending on how well his four-pitch mix develops in the future.

If we wanted to match positions and FVs, Malone would be somewhat comparable to the Braves’ now-hyped up Tucker Davidson, as he’s currently the lone 45+ FV pitcher in the Braves’ system. Although, after the 2019 season, Davidson had in Double-A and Triple-A, I’m not so sure that’s a fair comparison. FanGraphs has Davidson ranked No. 7 on the Braves’ list (we here at SportsTalkATL have him at No. 5) with another lefty Kyle Muller (45 FV) at 10th (9th for us) and righty Jasseel De La Cruz (40+ FV) at 12th (15th here). Considering Arizona’s Malone is still so raw — and the Braves wield a better farm system altogether — Cruz seems like the better hypothetical trade piece here, given he has almost just as much upside, though all three could’ve been in the mix.

It gets tricky when trying to come up with a Braves’ comp for Peguero, who came in as the D-Backs’ No. 5 prospect a month ago. Not only is he a highly ranked prospect, but he’s also a highly ranked middle-infield prospect — something the Braves don’t have, save for shortstop Braden Shewmake (and that depends on how much you buy into his first 65 games as a pro player). Peguero is also a 50 FV player, putting him near Drew Waters (55 FV) territory and in the same neighborhood as pitchers like Kyle Wright and Bryse Wilson, and even catcher William Contreras (all three players are 50 FV, according to FanGraphs). 

Peguero also made it up to short-season A-ball last season (as a 19-year-old), slashing .326/.382/.485 with 5 home runs, 11 doubles, and 11 stolen bases in 60 total games across two levels. The expectation for Peguero is for him to develop into a similar version of Jean Segura, a solid two-way player that can occasionally flash decent power with the bat.

This is a tough comparison to make, as we don’t know if the Pirates were specifically interested in an infielder as part of the return, or if they just wanted the highest-ranked prospect they could get. Regardless, either of those demands would’ve been tough for the Braves to achieve, considering a) the only impact infielder they have right now is a guy they just drafted and b) if Anthopoulos had already included a prospect like Davidson, Muller or Cruz (three players with comparable FVs), there was no way he was going to ALSO move a 50 FV prospect like Wright, Wilson or Contreras… and rightfully so. 

Of course, it would be incredibly naive to think that Anthopoulos couldn’t have worked something out. He has one of the best farm systems in baseball to pick through, but perhaps that’s the problem. Maybe the Braves’ ultra-talented prospect class meant that it would’ve taken a rather large overpay to acquire Marte, hence such a deal never coming together. 

We may never know precisely what trade talks between the Braves and Pirates involved, but it now seems quite reasonable that Anthopoulos chose to pass on Marte. A one-year deal on a player with just as much (or even more) talent with the bat, in Ozuna, sure seems ideal now that we’ve seen what it would’ve cost for Marte. 

Overall, given that the Braves were able to fill a weakness in the outfield and insert a power-hitter at the cleanup slot, all while maintaining their prospect depth and positional flexibility for the future, shows just how confident Anthopoulos is in the players that currently make up the team’s roster (including prospects that are on the way). And I have to say that I 100% agree.

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