The Mets entered the offseason with the outfield being the greatest area of positional need on the roster, due to the departure of Michael Conforto, who is still unsigned as of this writing. In response, Billy Eppler and company capped off a day of many position player acquisitions with the biggest of them all, signing Starling Marte to a four-year, $78 million deal in late November prior to the lockout.
“Starling is a premier talent at a premier position,” Mets GM Billy Eppler said after the signing. “His play in the outfield makes the team stronger at run prevention up the middle and his elite base-running skills are a perfect blend. He has a winning attitude and will be a huge asset as well in our clubhouse.”
Marte spent the first eight seasons of his career in Pittsburgh, building a reputation as an excellent top-of-the order hitter and lethal stolen base threat and earning a six-year contract extension from the Pirates ahead of the 2014 season. In the middle of that contract, Marte was suspended for 80 games for steroid use, but returned to more or less his same level of production after the suspension. Prior to the pandemic-shortened season in 2020, with one guaranteed year remaining on Marte’s contract plus a club option for 2021, the Pirates traded Marte to the Diamondbacks. After the trade to Arizona, Marte also suddenly and tragically lost his wife and almost left baseball, but was persuaded to continue playing.
Marte has bounced around since, being traded from the Diamondbacks to the Marlins in the second-half of the 60-game 2020 season and then traded again at the deadline in 2021 from Miami to the Oakland A’s. But, amidst all of this, Marte had the best season of his decade-long career in 2021, hitting .310 with a 134 wRC+, stealing career-high 47 bases, and accruing 5.5 fWAR between his time with the Marlins and with the A’s.
Marte was a coveted free agent in the offseason, drawing interest from many teams in search of a centerfielder amongst a class that was otherwise fairly thin at the position. The Mets have said that Marte is likely to start the season in right field rather than center, due to his strong arm and Brandon Nimmo’s improvements in center field defensively. However, the fact that the Mets’ starting outfield (Marte, Nimmo, and Mark Canha) all exhibit some positional versatility will allow Buck Showalter some flexibility based on matchups and who is injured or needs rest.
“It wasn’t easy,” the two-time Gold Glover said about learning the new position. “I still have got to continue working out there, but I felt like I was getting good reads whether it was a lefty batter or righty batter. But just to continue working [Monday] and the following days, just to start feeling more comfortable, but so far I felt pretty good.”
Sunday’s Grapefruit League game, which featured Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer on the hill in the same game, was also Marte’s first appearance in right field and his spring training debut, due to a sore oblique that kept him sidelined to start camp. But the oblique has appeared not to bother him so far, as he has notched two hits, three runs scored, a run batted in, and a stolen base and made a few nice-looking running catches in the field. As things stand right now, Marte should still be on track to be ready for Opening Day in Washington. And the Mets will need Marte and the rest of their somewhat injury-prone outfield to stay healthy if they can hope to succeed this season, given what little depth exists behind the starting three.
In addition to their positional versatility, another feature of the Mets’ revamped outfield is its collective on-base ability, as Nimmo, Marte, and Canha all have consistently put up high on-base percentages in their careers. Marte batted second behind Nimmo in Tuesday’s 10-0 Grapefruit League rout of the Marlins, followed by Francisco Lindor batting third and Pete Alonso batting cleanup; it would not be surprising if that is the batting order the Mets go with for Opening Day. Marte’s presence alongside Nimmo at the top of the order should be a huge asset to the Mets’ lineup. Back in November when the Mets signed Marte, I wrote that it was very reminiscent of the Curtis Granderson signing in 2013 and I stand by that characterization. In Marte, the Mets get an elite baserunner, a strong defensive outfielder who can play in center and at the corners, a contact hitter with strong on-base ability, and a clubhouse asset who will hopefully be a fixture at the top of the Mets’ lineup for the next four years.