With the trade deadline less than two months away and free agency looming just beyond that, the Marlins haven’t discussed a potential extension with center fielder Starling Marte, general manager Kim Ng told reporters yesterday (Twitter link via Craig Mish of the Miami Herald).
Between the lack of extension talks and a recent swan dive in the standings for Miami, the 32-year-old Marte looks increasingly like one of the game’s likelier trade candidates as that July 30 deadline approaches. Marte missed about a month with a broken rib earlier this season, but he’s enjoyed one of the most productive runs of an already terrific career so far in 2021 when he’s been healthy enough to take the field.
In 110 plate appearances, Marte has raked at a .337/.436/.554 clip with four homers, six doubles, a triple and six stolen bases. He’s also walked at a 12.7 percent clip that is far and away a career-best mark. His chase rate on pitches off the plate (33 percent) is tied for a career-low, and his contact rate on balls off the plate when he does swing is a career-best (64 percent). From a defensive standpoint, Marte has ranked anywhere from average to slightly above, at least from a statistical standpoint (0 Defensive Runs Saved, 0.5 Ultimate Zone Rating, two Outs Above Average).
As of this writing, Marte is still owed about $7.9MM of this season’s $12.5MM salary between now and the end of the year. That $12.5MM salary was a sizable sum for the perennially low-payroll Marlins to absorb when they acquired him at last year’s trade deadline, but it’s an eminently reasonable (if not bargain) price for a player of Marte’s caliber and one that could be more easily stomached by a club with even a mid-range payroll.
The low-spending Marlins may not want to risk a qualifying offer for Marte at season’s end. Even though he’d very likely reject such an offer, assuming good health, that number figures to check in around the $19MM range this winter — a number that represents 30 percent of this year’s roughly $63MM Marlins payroll. If Marte did reject, Miami would then receive a compensatory pick after the first round if (or when) he signed elsewhere. In order to trade Marte, the Fish would need to feel they were receiving more (or at least comparable) value than they’d net with a comp pick in the 2022 draft.
There are very few center-field options on the market but multiple clubs in need of an upgrade in center, which should bode well for the Marlins if they do ultimately put Marte on the market. A pair of those clubs, the Phillies and Mets, are in the Marlins’ own division, which could complicate matters a bit. Others, including the Yankees and Astros, are on the precipice of the luxury-tax barrier and have been unwilling to cross that threshold in 2021. Miami could, of course, offer to pay down some or even all of Marte’s remaining salary in order to eliminate that risk for a trade partner; by doing so, the Marlins would be able to justify a higher asking price in return for a rental of Marte’s services before he hits the open market.
It’s been less than a year since the Marlins acquired Marte from the D-backs in a trade that sent lefty Caleb Smith and minor league right-hander Humberto Mejia to Arizona. The Marlins registered as somewhat of a surprise landing spot, given Arizona’s financial motivations for trading Marte away and Miami’s annual payroll constraints. He’s batted .289/.362/.482 overall with the Marlins and was part of the team’s surprising playoff push last year, and the Marlins will now likely recoup either a nice prospect return in a trade or a notable pick in the 2022 draft.