Pittsburgh was hit with some real unfortunate news today when it was announced that Starling Marte was hit with an 80 game suspension for violating the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program by MLB. He tested positive for a PED known as Nandrolone. The drug itself is a synthetic anabolic-androgenic steroid derived from testosterone.
This news comes just a day after it was learned that another key player the Pirates were without, Jung Ho Kang, will not get his DUI appeal hearing until May 25. This is important because he was denied his visa to come to the states and his entire season is in jeopardy. The chance of winning his appeal could conceivably expedite his chance of earning his visa and playing again in 2017.
Regardless, Marte’s suspension news now makes two cases of selfish decisions that has put the Pirates organization in a very bad position. The organization and teammates are now without what many could say are the two most important hitters in that lineup. Kang, who presents a very real power threat and Marte who is a very good contact hitter that has 50+ stolen base potential will not take the field anytime in the near future. Marte also gives the team a gold glove caliber defender whom they were relying on heavily to take over centerfield duties from Andrew McCutchen.
Statement from Starling Marte (translated) pic.twitter.com/ai6yN0lCMU
— Pirates (@Pirates) April 18, 2017
With a lot of question marks already coming in to this season such as the quality of the starting rotation, the outfield defense, power in the lineup, and health, it’s a real question on what path this leads the Pirates. Thankfully to extension given to David Freese, the loss of Kang was perceived as sustainable. However, losing a star caliber player such as Starling Marte is going to be hard to overcome. This is now forcing Pittsburgh to place Cutch back in center field where he generated a -28 defensive runs saved last year.
Truly, I am not sure where this leaves the Pirates. They called up Jose Osuna today to take the place of Marte’s roster spot. Osuna, who is a natural first baseman, doesn’t give this team a clear replacement for Marte. To be honest, it forces him to be part of the bench and platoon at first with Josh Bell, while Adam Frazier looks to get the clear majority of the playing time in outfield at this moment. I don’t agree with this as Josh Harrison should be the man out there, but based on tonight’s lineup featuring Frazier in right field that is what the signs are pointing to.
There is already talk around the city about a call up of top prospect Austin Meadows to take the place of Marte, but with only 186 plate appearances at Triple A and slash line this year of .162/.220/.270/.490 so far, it doesn’t seem like that is the likely and wise decision to make.
There is, however, a free agent lurking who the Pirates already had some connections with this offseason in Angel Pagan. Pagan is a 35 outfield free agent who has still yet to sign based on financial demands. He was also linked to the Braves, but a confirmed source states he turned them down due to it being a minor league contract. He was believed to be seeking a $5 million deal, and with the savings the Pirates are technically getting by losing Marte and Kang, it seems like they could foot the cash to sign the veteran player to fill a pretty costly void.
Pagan doesn’t come with the same game skills as Marte. Though Marte never had much power, Pagan has a career slugging % of .408 but slashed about the same average and on base as Marte. He can net you double digit steals, but is light years behind in regards to speed. Also, he hasn’t produced positive defensive metrics in years. This begs the question – is the season over?
Obviously this news is a big loss for the team. Even if Marte comes back later in the year and the team is in the hunt, he won’t be available for the playoffs. A real possibility for this team is to have a semi overhaul. Andrew McCutchen is virtually in his last year as a Pittsburgh Pirate. If this season is already over, it would make a lot of sense to trade him and get as much value in return for him. Also, Tony Watson, John Jaso, Juan Nicasio, and Antonio Bastardo are set to be free agents next year. Between the five of them, the Pirates could recoup some future pieces that could help them contend as early as 2018.
However, I still feel it is just too early into the season to make this type of decision. Are the playoffs still likely? Probably not. It is just way too early to throw away an entire season without playing it out to see what happens. Baseball is a crazy sport where crazy things can happen. It was only a year ago where many people were discrediting the Indians and what they could do before they ended up almost winning a World Series. Pittsburgh will need to stay the course and keep their heads above water and reassess this summer. Whether it’s before Marte comes back because they have completely fallen apart, or after Marte comes back because they stayed in thick of things, in only makes sense to continue trying to compete.
Baseball aside, this was just a terrible mistake by a very promising player who was passed a very large torch this season to take the reigns of this team. For years it has been Andrew McCutchen’s Pirates and Starling Marte was given an opportunity to become the guy and breakout into a major star. This selfish act has not only hindered him from becoming that star, but his irresponsibility has also put more responsibility on his teammates and potentially ruined Cutch’s last hurrah as a Pirate.