Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Pirates Extend Starling Marte

This big news came a day after it was reported that Starling Marte declined an extension with the Pirates but was willing to keep discussions open. I didn't really think too much of it since nothing typically gets done the first time and no information was leaked about what Marte turned down or what the Pirates were even offering/thinking of offering.

This is really, really solid for the Pirates. This gives the Pirates Marte's rights through his first year of free agency (the extension kicks in this year) and then the Pirates get two years of team options if they wish. That means that the Pirates could hold on to Marte for three of his free agency years. That is some good stuff when you considered they are tied to $31M through the first six years of the deal.

This is something the Pirates are trying to do. Sure, Marte only has one year under his belt but with his ridiculous athleticism and success he had in the first year this was locking up a player early for what might turn out to be a crazy team friendly deal. There is some risk in this as Marte could decline suddenly or find himself not on the field due to injuries but hard to not be really happy about this.

The real key to this is the two team options that the Pirates get. The original six year extension will basically buy out the arbitration years so it would have really been giving the team some cost certainty going forward. By getting the two option years (plus the one free agent year in the original deal) the Pirates are buying out years that will cost them a lot if they wouldn't have done this. As I said this gives the Pirates cost certainty through the arbitration year which could be dicey. Typically arbitration rates increase based on the traditional stats (BA, HR, RBI) and while Marte doesn't fit into that mold he brings that speed, defense, and athleticism which could make this deal worth it even if you don't consider the offense.

The club option years are pretty clutch for another reason, Marte's speed. What I mean by that is that his game is heavily relied on speed and if that ever were to become compromised then his value goes way down. Last season his BABIP was .363 which actually finished among the top-10 in the majors. No doubt his speed has a huge part in this as he was 23rd in baseball with 18 infield hits and that is a mix of his ability to bunt for base hits and beat out choppers to the left side of the field. His defense utilizes his speed and if that goes then he becomes a much less appealing player. If that happens then not being tied down to those two years are pretty important.

All told though this deal is nice for both sides. Marte knows he is going to make money and the Pirates are locking up some core players. Last year they were able to get Andrew McCutchen for a steal of a deal and this year they got Marte, who was a top-three player for them last year. If Marte can strike out a little less and get on base a little more then this is going to be a robbery of a deal. Hell, even if he starts to improve in those areas then this is going to be a great deal. There is just not a lot not to like about what Neal Huntington and company did this morning and while it might not say much this was easily his best move of the offseason.

I don't really want to be that guy, but this could turn out as a positive in another way. A lot of people have been talking about the logjam of outfielders in the Pirates system and what it could mean going forward. What this deal might set up is a very attractive trade piece if push came to shove. I am not saying the Pirates are going to eventually trade Marte for sure but if they are looking to get rid of someone and he is still playing baseball at a decent rate with some speed then a team will be willing to make that deal for a guy who has pretty decent offense and can play a plus centerfield. Add on to that the great deal he is signed for and the Pirates could get a little something better back. This might be something that nobody is thinking about right now but it gives the Pirates that option in the future if some of they top outfield prospects shoot through the system and make it possible to replenish other needs with a current outfielder.

All-in-all this is really a good thing. The Pirates are locking up core players for great deals and this is what they need to do going forward.

UPDATE (3/27/14):

And it's official

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