The Pittsburgh Pirates agreed to an extension with Starling Marte today, putting the outfielder under team control through the 2021 season. The extension was for six years and $31 M, with two option years. Specific details about the yearly salaries and the option years are unknown. However, you don’t need to see those details to know that this has the potential to be a huge value for the Pirates.
To put this deal in perspective, the Pirates extended Andrew McCutchen for six years plus one option year. McCutchen had two years of service time when he signed the deal, so like Marte, it bought out control of his first three free agent years. The maximum amount of the deal, including the option year, would be seven years and $65 M.
To scale Marte’s deal to match McCutchen’s deal, you’d have to remove the 2014 season, along with half a million dollars. That would make it a five-year, $30.5 M deal with two option years. Again, we don’t know what those option years are, but they’d have to total $34.5 M to match McCutchen’s value.
McCutchen’s deal is seen as a massive value, in part because he almost immediately became an MVP candidate. He had a 5.4 WAR the year before signing his extension. The following season he posted a 6.7 WAR. This past year, McCutchen won the MVP award with an 8.2 WAR.
As for Marte, he had a 4.6 WAR in his first full season in baseball. By comparison, McCutchen had a 3.4 WAR in his first full season. McCutchen was one year younger than Marte, so if we look at comparable years by age, you’ve got a 4.6 WAR for Marte and a 5.4 WAR for McCutchen.
Marte and McCutchen aren’t the same players. They have totally different skills that lead to their overall values. But from a value standpoint, they both are impact players. Marte might not reach the MVP levels that McCutchen is seeing, but he gets a lot of value from the speed, base running, and defensive aspects of his game. Those are skills that don’t project to decline during the life of this deal. For that reason, you can expect Marte to continue producing at or above the value we saw from him during the 2013 season.
By my estimates, if Marte went year to year with the Pirates, and maintained his 4.6 WAR per year, he’d be in line to make $26.4 M over the next five seasons. The Pirates are getting the next six seasons for $31 M. If he became a free agent after the 2018 season, which he was set to do before this extension, then a 4.6 WAR would put him in line for a $21 M salary per year on the open market. That makes the life of this deal worth $89.7 M for Marte if he would have gone year to year and entered free agency as soon as possible. Even with the option years, I don’t think Marte is getting close to just under $90 M.
If Marte improves his game, just like McCutchen did, then the Pirates are getting an even better deal. If he becomes a six win player, then his alternate salary would be worth $116 M by going year to year and entering free agency after the 2018 season. Keep in mind that he posted his 4.6 WAR while missing a month. A healthy season at that pace puts him at a 5.4 WAR, which was the same level McCutchen had in his age 24 season.
But getting a value is expected with these types of extensions. Teams get a value for taking on risk. Players give up money for the security of a guaranteed contract. And if you want to talk about a player who is an injury risk, then Starling Marte certainly fits the bill.
Last year, Marte was hit by a pitch 24 times. Only Shin-Soo Choo had more, with 26. This wasn’t a one year deal for Marte. He was hit by 13 pitches in 2012, and 11 in 2011. In 2010 he was hit with 15 pitches in half a season, and the reason he only played half a season was because he broke his hamate after — you guessed it — getting hit by a pitch.
Marte is also an all out player who plays hard on the field, runs hard on the bases, and slides head first into the bases. That last point cost Marte a month during the 2013 season, after he slid head first into third base, and had his hand stepped on. The Pirates have pretty much accepted that Marte isn’t going to change his approach to the game, and will continue sliding head first into the bag. For that reason, they’ve made the protective “oven mitt” a permanent thing, to avoid future injuries.
We could sit here and dream about Marte maintaining his 4.6 WAR, and possibly improving on those numbers. However, we don’t know if that’s going to happen. We could also talk about how Marte is an injury risk, meaning there could be a chance that he doesn’t maintain this current progression, and also a risk that he could decline or miss entire seasons. Once again, that’s not guaranteed either.
What we do know about Marte is that he was a 4.6 WAR player in his first full season in the majors at the age of 24, and that included missing a month with an injury. He’s getting $31 M guaranteed over the next six years. If he went year-to-year, he’d need to be a 3.0 WAR player per year to reach that value, or put up 18 wins over the next six seasons. Considering he just fell shy of five wins in a single season, I’d say there’s a good chance that Marte exceeds that total and brings a lot of value to the Pirates in this deal. He might miss some time in the process, but the time in which he is healthy will make up for that.
We only know the surface details at this point — six years, $31 M, plus two option years. Taking that with what we know about Marte and his value, it’s easy to see how the Pirates made a wise investment with this move.