As they approach the All Star break and the trade deadline shortly thereafter, the Yankees have a handful of significant holes on the roster. The rotation is in disarray. The bullpen has looked vulnerable. Outside of Aaron Judge, the outfield has been a revolving door of underperformers.
For the past few weeks, we have been previewing the teams most likely to be sellers at the deadline. Josh recently outlined the Diamondbacks that could draw the most interest. So, as we begin our dive into more thorough analysis of the individual trade targets that are on the Yankees’ radar, it makes sense to begin with the crown jewel on the market: Ketel Marte.
Over the last three seasons, Marte has established himself as one of the most complete all-around stars in the game. His 141 wRC+ is eighth in MLB over that span. He’s a switch-hitter with power from both sides of the plate. He can play every position except catcher reasonably well. Let’s look a little closer at the aspects of Marte’s game that allow him to be so successful.
On the offensive side, Marte owns the 24th-lowest strikeout rate (14.2 percent) out of 297 batters with at least 140 plate appearances, and of the top-25 on that list, his 163 wRC+ is by far the highest. So he’s not just avoiding strikeouts at the expense of poor contact (think Hanser Alberto). Exhibit A: his .341 expected batting average is second in MLB, and when you consider he owns the 22nd-highest swing rate in the league, it means he puts the ball in play with consistently excellent quality of contact.
Defensively, Marte is a center fielder by trade, though it is the position at which he grades out the worst, with -7 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and Outs Above Average (OAA) in his career. What makes him so intriguing as a fielder is his ability to deputize at multiple positions around the diamond. He has been worth 20 DRS and seven OAA at second base and two DRS and four OAA at shortstop. Given the injury track record of most of the Yankees’ infield, Marte’s versatility would be worth its weight in gold.
Before we continue, we have to address the elephant in the room: injuries. Marte by no means owns a clean bill of health, especially this season and last. He missed 14 days with a wrist injury in 2020, and is currently serving his second stint on the IL this season with a recurring hamstring injury that already cost him a month-and-a-half at the beginning of 2021.
This throws a serious spanner in the works, considering the number one issue for the man he’d be replacing — Aaron Hicks — has also been injuries. If the Yankees are considering a move for Marte, would they abide him missing a comparable amount of playing time? I have a hunch the answer would be yes. Marte is enough of an upgrade over Hicks that the injuries become palatable.
Now we get to the Marte’s greatest source of value, as well as the aspect that will make it hardest for a team to trade for him. Marte is on a supremely team-friendly deal — signed for five years, $24 million prior to the 2018 season — and has two club options after the 2022 season for $10 million and $12 million respectively. You just don’t see that kind of bargain for a player with a seven-win season on his resume.
Of course, it is the multiple years of affordable control that make Marte prohibitively expensive on the trade market. As Josh pointed out, the Diamondbacks would be justified in setting a sky-high price for Marte, so high that it is unlikely he gets dealt this year. Although the luxury tax should not be a barrier if the Yankees come calling, they just do not have the prospect capital outside of Jasson Dominguez to tempt the Diamondbacks.
So it looks like any hope of the Yankees acquiring Marte is a pipe dream. It’s a shame because he seems like the perfect fit for New York. He would give All-Star caliber production in centerfield all without blowing up the budget. And conveniently, the expiration of his deal, if the two club options were to be exercised, coincides with the ETA of the aforementioned Dominguez. Food for thought.