The Yankees — thanks to uninspiring play and a self-imposed salary cap — have entered organizational limbo. They find themselves in the unenviable position of not knowing whether to buy or sell at the deadline with July 30th less than two weeks away. They probably aren’t close enough in the hunt for one or two additions to make a meaningful difference, but are treading water enough to justify — at least to themselves — holding onto players.
If they do decide to make a go of it this season, there are players on the market who could upgrade the current roster and still fit within the budget. Center field is an area of concern, and before the All-Star break I profiled a player who would be a perfect fit for the Yankees’ needs. Ketel Marte owns an impact bat and versatile glove, and has multiple years of control left. The problem is that he would cost a fortune to acquire. So, I thought we’d take a look at a more affordable, unrelated Marte: Starling.
Starling Marte, the Marlins’ 32-year-old center fielder, is no stranger to the trade carousel. Thanks to his career track record and the extremely team-friendly contract extension he signed with the Pirates prior to the 2014 season, Marte has become the prototypical rental trade chip. He was traded to the Diamondbacks in January 2020, only to be flipped to the Marlins at the deadline seven months later.
Marte is certainly an upgrade over any of the Yankees’ true center fielders. A lifetime .287/.343/.450, 117 wRC+ hitter, Marte is putting together a year that would fit in quite nicely with his younger, Pittsburgh prime self. He is slashing .286/.389/.443 with seven home runs, 18 stolen bases, a 134 wRC+, and 2.8 fWAR — boosted by a 12.1 percent walk rate that’s nearly three times his career average — all of which would be a huge coup over the .187/.298/.305, 72 wRC+, and 0.2 fWAR produced by current Yankees center fielders.
Marte also would improve the outfield defense. His four Outs Above Average according to Statcast is double what the Yankees have received in center, while his +3 DRS and +4.3 UZR surpass the -3 DRS and -0.3 UZR from Aaron Hicks, Brett Gardner, et al. And even at 32, his 85th percentile sprint speed is right in line with the current Yankees center field options.
The most intriguing aspect of Marte’s trade deadline candidacy, however, is his availability. Sources indicate that there is a high likelihood the center fielder will be traded. He recently turned down a three-year, $30 million contract extension offer from the Marlins, so they will be motivated to move him for a return this season rather than risk him leaving this winter for a compensatory pick at best (should they extend him a qualifying offer and see him decline it). The Marlins are in last place and one of the sure-bet sellers, so all the incentive lies in cashing in while his value is at its acme.
The best part? According to Jon Heyman, the Yankees are one of the teams interested in acquiring Marte:
Phillies, Astros and Yanks are among teams to check in on Starling Marte who seems likely to be traded. A sizable gap remains in contract talks with the Marlins as @BNightengale said. Miami’s offer is for more than the reported $30M for 3 years but extension hopes are fading.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) July 18, 2021
Unlike Ketel, Starling Marte would be a pure rental. This likely pushes his acquisition cost into a more comfortable realm for the Yankees. GM Brian Cashman even has a framework for the prospect package they would need to send in return, considering that Marte was traded as a rental at the last trade deadline. The Marlins sent Caleb Smith, Humberto Mejía, and Julio Frias to the D-backs in exchange for Marte, although this is an admittedly imperfect blueprint considering Arizona and now Miami had different priorities heading into the respective trade deadlines.
Finally, there’s the matter of Marte’s contract. He is playing on a one-year, $12.5 million deal after the Marlins exercised their 2021 option prior to the season. If acquired on deadline day, Marte would be owed roughly $4.63 million for the rest of the season. Per Cot’s Contracts, the Yankees payroll currently stands at $207.6 million, so they would need the Marlins to eat just over $2 million to avoid exceeding the first tax threshold. So conceivably, they could acquire Marte and get Miami to pay off part of what he is owed — perhaps by attaching a higher-end prospect — all without bursting their precious CBT bubble.
Of course, the one downside to his affordability is an increased likelihood of competition for his services, though I don’t anticipate the price being pushed unreasonably high. It helps that the Yankees have familiarity with members of the Marlins’ front office (Derek Jeter and Kim Ng for two) and have consummated a handful of trades over the last decade. Giancarlo Stanton is the obvious one, but they also acquired Michael King in 2017 and shipped off Stephen Tarpley last season.
As a rental, Marte does not solve the Yankees’ long-term issues in center. However that should not factor into the Yankees’ calculus. If they are serious about trying to make a push for a playoff spot, they cannot do it with the roster as currently constructed. New York needs an everyday center fielder who won’t break the bank, making Marte the exact type of player they should be pursuing.