The Padres are a team that is just a few pieces away from being a true contender in the National League West. They’re about an outfielder, and starting pitcher away from taking the next step to becoming possible threat to even the Dodgers.
They have a boat load of prospects on the verge of making an impact in the MLB, and ready to trade some of them to acquire pieces that will improve their team (see Tommy Pham/Hunter Renfroe trade). On the other hand, you have the Pirates. They finished last in the NL Central, have a farm system that is OK, but not great, and have a MLB roster that is lacking decent pitching, catching, and outfield depth. A rebuild is in their future, but they could start off on the right foot. They have a commodity that isn’t on the free agent market currently: a very good center-viable fielder. That obviously being Starling Marte.
Last year, the Padres primary center fielder was Manuel Margot. Margot is one of the best fielding center fielders in the MLB. He was 5th in CF DRS (6), 4th in UZR (5.8), and 4th in Fangraphs defensive rating (7.5). But Margot is a fielding first, and fielding only kind of player. The last 2 seasons have seen the right handed batter hit for a measly .240/.297/.385. Overall, he had an OPS+ of only 85.
On the other hand, Marte had a great offensive season. Not only was this his second straight 20/20 season (23 home runs, 25 stolen bases), but overall he was extremely productive. He had a .295/.342/.503 batting line in 586 plate appearances. Out of all outfielders who had at least 100 games played in CF in 2019, only 2 players had a higher wRC+ than Starling Marte (119). Ronald Acuna Jr. (126) and Mike Trout (180).
But unlike Margot, Marte isn’t a top tier defensive CF. He had -9 DRS, -.7 dWAR in 2019, and was the second lowest-rated defensive center fielder in 2019 according to Fangraphs’ defensive rating (-5.7). Career wise he has -11 DRS. However, with the acquisition of Tommy Pham, who has been much closer to average in fielding terms than Marte, the current Pirates outfielder could see more time in left field, a position he recorded 82 DRS between 2012 to 2017.
Plus if the Friars don’t trade Margot, the elite defensive OF could occasionally spell Marte to a corner position as well. The 31-year-old Marte is being paid a team-friendly $11.5 million this season, and has a $12.5 million team option/$1 million buyout for 2021.
So in a theoretical deal for Starling Marte, who from the Padres would head to Pittsburgh? The first and biggest piece would be catching prospect Luis Campusano. The 2017, 2nd round draft pick is ranked as mlb.com’s 86th best prospect, and the 7th best catching prospect.
Last season, Campusano crushed High-A ball pitching. He hit for an astounding .325/.396/.509 with 15 home runs in 487 plate appearances. While his 10.7 walk % is solid, but not spectacular, he had a very low 11.7 K%. That was the 10th lowest K% at the High-A ball level. This was good for a 148 wRC+, which ranked 3rd in the entire California League. He has a cannon of an arm behind the plate, having a 60 arm rating by both mlb.com and Fangraphs. This fixes one of the biggest problems the Pirates have.
They really lack a good future option behind the plate. Jacob Stallings looked solid last year, but looks more like a solid 2nd catcher, or glove only catcher for a contending team. Elias Diaz had a solid 2017 (116 OPS+ in 277 PA’s), but completely fell off in 2019, and was even non-tendered following the season. Luke Maile and Stallings are the only catchers currently on the 40-man. Plus with the Padres having one of the best defensive catchers in the MLB (Austin Hedges), at the Padres’ disposal, A.J. Preller might be more willing to deal Luis. He won’t be ready until around 2022, but that’s ok. The Pirates probably won’t be looking to compete again by then anyways if they fully rebuild in 2020.
The Pirates need to get a pitcher back in this deal, and the Padres have plenty of young, and interesting arms. I would be eyeing 23 year old right hander Michel Baez. He is currently ranked as the team’s #8 best prospect. Baez was a former top starting pitching prospect, but was transitioned to the bullpen in 2019. He spent 2019, mostly in Double-A. In 29.1 innings in AA, Baez put up very good numbers. His ERA and FIP were below 3 (2.00/2.56), and gave up only one home run. Baez is a proficient strikeout pitcher, having a 12.7 K/9. He also kept a solid walk rate at 3.7 BB/9. Baez also played 29 and two thirds in the MLB, and produced mixed results. Sure he recorded a 3.03 ERA and 141 ERA+, but his strikeout rate fell to 8.5, while his walk rate rose to 4.2. Regardless, Baez is only going to be 24 next season, and can crank his fastball up into the high 90’s (96.1 MPH fastball).
If the Pirates want to start of their rebuild off right, trading Marte could be one of the best steps in the right direction. He is easily worth a top prospect, speaking his contract is extremely team friendly, but also because he is one of the few good center field options on the market. This is a chance for the Pirates to receive pieces that could greatly help their future, and I think Campusano and Baez fit the Pirates perfectly.