Starling Marte will be out 80 games for the Pirates this season after failing a PED test. This is a crushing blow for a franchise that has been struggling in the NL Central since the rise of the Chicago Cubs.
Losing Marte has a much bigger impact than just this season. A full season from Marte may have been just what the Pirates needed. Instead, they must fill the hole left by their star center fielder.
Who will Take his Place?
The two-time Gold Glover was making the transition to starting full-time in center field after playing the corner outfield spots for the majority of his career. That move was brought on in part by the decline of Andrew McCutchen last season.
The veteran may make a return to center field, given the lack of major league talent. Gregory Polanco is assumed to be the incumbent in center field, but he’s been out with a groin pull.
Even when Polanco comes back, it will leave an empty outfield spot. Former top prospect Josh Bell has been the presumed incumbent at first base for a while, but could return to his natural position. He played the corner outfield spots well in the minors and has flashed good pop.
Adam Frazier could also be in line for some playing time. The 25-year-old has 185 major league at bats and a .303 career average. Even with Bell and Frazier, the Pirates may be tempted to call on their farm system to fill the hole.
Austin Meadows is ranked as baseball’s sixth best prospect according to Baseball America. He is a natural center fielder with good range and solid power, but still raw at 21 years old. If Bell and Frazier can’t carry the load, he will surely see the major leagues.
Are the Pirates sellers?
The Pirates had a down 2016 season after making the playoffs three straight years from 2013-2015. The team went 78-83 last year and many wondered in the offseason if they would start rebuilding. This question will be brought to the forefront now with the loss of Marte for 80 games.
Marte is arguably the best player on the Pirates roster, and his loss may be too much for the Buccos to overcome. If the Pirates do enter sell mode, who do they move, and at what price?
The first choice would be McCutchen. The outfielder struggled in 2016 and was the talk of trade rumors in the offseason, so expect those to start ramping up again. He’s still a solid player and would be a valuable addition to a playoff contender.
Another trade chip in the Pirates’ possession is Gerrit Cole. The 26-year-old pitcher is one of the best young arms in the majors and would net a major haul for the Pirates if they moved him.
The Pirates very well could move both McCutchen and Cole, or neither one. The roster in Pittsburgh is talented, but the competition in the NL Central is fierce. With a roster devoid of Starling Marte for 80 games, it may be in the Pirates best interest to start moving towards a rebuild.
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