Pirates center fielder Starling Marte isn’t a perfect player, but he’s a very good one. And he’s now within two seasons of free agency, with the Bucs looking increasingly unlikely to contend before that time comes. The 31-year-old ought to have plenty of appeal, given that he can be controlled through 2021 for just $24MM (and perhaps issued a qualifying offer thereafter). Marte doesn’t draw walks and hasn’t quite reached the ceiling it once seemed he was headed for, but he’s a well-above-average hitter who runs the bases with aplomb and defends well. He has played like a first-division regular since cracking the majors and was his usual self in 2019 before a wrist injury ended his season.
Beyond a neutral value perspective, the market particulars seem to line up well for the Pirates to achieve an appealing return. Free agent options are generally uninspiring. And there are plenty of teams that have good reason to show interest. Here are the most interesting possible suitors (in alphabetical order):
Blue Jays: It’s time to gain some traction in Toronto and a center field upgrade stands out as one major way to make gains. Teoscar Hernandez and Randal Grichuk held things down in marginal fashion in 2019 after the departure of another OBP-challenged player with pop, Kevin Pillar. There are loads of young position players on the Jays roster, but none stands out as a likely everyday option in center in the near term. The Toronto front office is going to need to make some tough calls on its talent, giving up on and/or trading away some players. With the Pirates always on the lookout for ways to add multiple affordable/controllable MLB assets in a single trade, perhaps there’s a match here.
Cubs: It may be tough to hammer things out with a division rival, but the Cubs have to consider a look here after watching Albert Almora stumble in 2019. The club may not have immense payroll flexibility but wouldn’t need all that much of it to go for Marte. And the Cubs are loaded up reasonably talented, relatively youthful position players that haven’t (yet?) established themselves as highly valuable big leaguers. If the Bucs take a shine to one or more of these players, it’s not too hard to imagine something coming together.