The “Contender November” series for the Detroit Tigers continues with a look at fleet-footed centerfielder Starling Marte.
The longtime Pirate has bounced around of late but is coming off a very solid season split between Miami and Oakland. He’s now looking for a new home at the age of 33. Could the Detroit Tigers be a good fit?
Marte is likely looking forward to his final big contract to take him towards retirement. But he entered this phase of his life with a career year in fWAR of 5.5 accrued in just 120 games. It was, in many ways, a tour de force campaign for Marte. He showed his wheels were as good as ever with a career-high 47 swipes in only 52 attempts. Marte also flexed with career highs in OBP, walk-rate and wRC+.
In total it was an excellent jumping off-season into free agency despite the market being full of shortstops dominating the headlines.
Is Starling Marte a fit in a Detroit Tigers uniform?
Seriously? Of course, he is.
The only problem is Marte is a fit in lots of places. The jockeying for his services will be joined by several clubs with outfield needs, notably the Yankees for instance.
You will find some observers who proclaim the outfield situation in Detroit to be adequate. The funny thing about the word “adequate”…it’s almost always said with a weak trailing off the tone of voice. “Well…we think it’s adequate”. You never need an exclamation point such as “Hell yeah we’re ADEQUATE!!”. Al Avila and AJ Hinch need to challenge themselves to improve the outfield situation. Adequacy be damned.
The Tigers outfield could use the juice Marte brings to its lineup. Marte in center field flanked by super-prospect Riley Greene in right field and some kind of timeshare between Akil Baddoo and Robbie Grossman in left field would absolutely give the Tigers moribund offense from ‘21 something to work within ‘22 and moving forward.
What will Starling Marte cost the Detroit Tigers?
No doubt the number of teams pursuing Marte could lead to his next deal being a little healthier than he may have thought prior to his excellent campaign in ‘21.
The question will seem to be about whether one club will yield a 5th year to a new deal for the 33-year old veteran or is a 4-year offer the maximum fit? The bet here, despite the age, is 4-years for between $80M and $90M with an option/partial buy out for a 5th year getting a deal done.
Marte does come with no qualifying offer penalty attached. His mid-season trade made him ineligible so he will not cause his next club to lose a draft choice.
For Detroit’s top-heavy minor league organization this would seem fairly attractive. While absorbing losing a pick isn’t the worst thing in the world, it gets dicier if multiple picks are lost depending on what other free agents Detroit is able to lure in. One pick has already been sacrificed to the Eduardo Rodriguez signing.
The Tigers might be looking to contend soon but they need to keep an eye on the lack of depth in their system as well. Marte gives them the best of both worlds in some respects by not raiding the draft cache.
In the end
“Affordability” regarding Marte all really comes to which shortstop Detroit is able to pluck from the market.
If the Tigers take the big plunge on Carlos Correa for a deal north of $300M then it would seem highly unlikely they add a premium outfielder of Marte’s ilk this off-season. Even a Corey Seager level signing might preclude it.
However, if the Tigers end up walking away with Marcus Semien, Trevor Story, or the much cheaper Chris Taylor then it would seem very possible they could pivot to spend on a pricy outfield upgrade as well.
Detroit’s modest payroll commitments give them exceptional latitude to pursue marquee players in this off-season and Avila/Hinch should be looking at all avenues of improvement.
The Tigers could ostensibly add one of the high-quality shortstops, welcome the arrivals of Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson, and add a bat-like Marte to their lineup in one off-season. Overall a set of moves like this would be an electric jolt to their offense similar to getting the paddles put on their chest, an ER doc yelling “CLEAR” and life resuming.
The odds of Marte patrolling centerfield in Comerica Park next season are probably slim. But it takes very little imagination to see what an adding player of his established skillset at or near the top of its order could do for its run-production and its ability to contend for a playoff berth.