Starling Marte, Pirates agree to $31 million extension

Jamie Sabau

The Pirates now have two-thirds of their outfield locked up through 2018.

The Pittsburgh Pirates agreed to a six-year, $31 million extension with outfielder Starling Marte on Wednesday, per Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal.

Good news gets better for Pittsburgh fans, as the Pirates also retained two club options in the deal, according to MLB Network Radio's Jim Duquette. The contract is a favorable one for Pittsburgh, and the type of deal that can keep a franchise with a tight budget afloat if Marte can maintain his level of play. The dollar figure pales in comparison to that of Andrelton Simmons, who received $58 million in guarantees from Atlanta earlier this offseason, and like Marte had between one and two years of service time. For a similar deal for an outfielder, we might reach back to 2010 and look at Denard Span's contract, which was for considerably less despite similar stat lines, though market inflation can explain away much of that difference.

Marte batted an impressive .280/.343/.441 in his first full season, a massive improvement on his .257/.300/.437 debut in 2012. Never one to walk much (as his career-high walk rate of 6.5 percent in the minor leagues can attest), Marte has to hit well to succeed on offense. Fortunately, he's done just that throughout his minor league career, with a .303 average. Some might point to his BABIP as an area for regression and concern, and while it may come down a bit from its lofty .363 in 2013, it is clearly in line with the .367 mark his was able to achieve in the minor leagues.

On top of his impressive offensive performance last year, Marte would likely play centerfield for most baseball teams, and so is a true plus fielder in left for Pittsburgh with a UZR of 10.2 in 2013 (per FanGraphs). While one-year samples of fielding data are notoriously suspect, his positive defensive contributions do jibe with scouting reports that indicated he could have been an above-average center fielder as far back as 2011 and could have hung in defensively in the majors as far back as 2010.

Those scouting reports bring us to what could be the only negative part of this deal. While those scouting lauded his speed and defensive prowess, they questioned his ultimate power utility due to lack of incorporating his lower half in his swing. While that appears to be holding true, as Marte topped out at 12 home runs in 2013, they also warned of approach issues, something that also appears unresolved. Marte's impressive bat-to-ball skills can sometimes obscure how much of a hacker he truly is, or even amplify its effect. Still, a walk rate of 4.4 percent isn't a good thing when paired with his 24.4 percent strikeout rate, because it means that when he's not hitting, he's not producing offensively. One might point to his notable 41 stolen bases in 2013 as a manner of contribution and while that shouldn't be overlooked, it should be noted as well that he was caught a league-high 15 times as well.

None of this is to say that Marte is a poor investment, though, only to emphasize that he still has rough edges to his game. In fact, it may be a reason to be excited, as there's a chance that Marte refines those qualities and becomes an even better player than he was in 2013. The upshot is that he doesn't even need to be the player he was last year to make this deal worthwhile, with the average annual value working out to just over $5 million per season. That said, they were going to retain him for four of the six seasons guaranteed anyway, so we can't just say this is a good deal and leave it at that. Cost certainty is important, but there's downside here in that if anything negative happens with Marte injury-wise or off the field, the Pirates are still on the hook for that $31 million.

Beyond that, there's the possibility that Marte is simply never the player that he was in 2013 again. It's possible his approach issues (and not getting hit by 24 pitches) drop his OBP into the .300 range going forward and he becomes more of a league average hitter with above-average defense. If that's the case, will he be worth $5 million a year? Almost definitely, yes, though whether that was someone you needed to lock up for six seasons is another question, but the harm is almost negligible. All in all, Pittsburgh could reap major rewards from this deal, while the relatively low dollar amount means it is effectively shielded from much downside, even if Marte does experience regression at the plate.

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