Pirates Trade Rumors: Why Dealing Starling Marte for Shin-Soo Choo Is Foolish

Mike Rosenbaum@GoldenSombreroMLB Prospects Lead WriterJuly 30, 2012

CLEVELAND, OH - JULY 25: Shin-Soo Choo #17 of the Cleveland Indians hits a double during the third inning against the Detroit Tigers at Progressive Field on July 25, 2012 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Jason Miller/Getty Images

After a week of speculation that the Cleveland Indians may be willing to trade right fielder Shin-Soo Choo, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reported on Sunday that their asking price is a good major leaguer "with less than three years of service.”

It should come as no surprise that the Tribe is looking for a large return on the 30-year-old outfielder, who is batting .291/.378/.484 with 32 doubles, 12 home runs and 11 stolen bases in 96 games this season.

One team that has been repeatedly linked to Choo is the Pittsburgh Pirates, who, after acquiring left-hander Wandy Rodriguez from the Astros last week, appear to be in the market for a middle-of-the-order bat, ideally a left-handed one—obviously.

However, it seems as though the acquisition would come at a steep price in 23-year-old outfield prospect Starling Marte, according to Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh-Tribune Review.

But is it wise for the Pirates to deal their top outfield prospect in return for Choo? Set to earn $4.9 million this season and set to receive a raise when he heads to arbitration for the final time this offseason, Choo’s actual cost is far from daunting or unmanageable. At the same time, Marte is a toolsy player whose baseball skills are still catching up to his athleticism, therefore giving him a high ceiling.

Marte began his big league career in style on Thursday when he jumped the yard to left-center field in Houston on the first pitch he ever saw. In a sense, that first at-bat was Starling Marte in a nutshell.

Regarded as a free-swinger, the right-handed hitter walked 3.8 percent of the time in 2011 at Double-A but posted a career-high 6.5 percent at Triple-A prior to his recent promotion.

Although he clearly has plenty of raw power, Marte possesses only average power frequency and will probably never hit more than 15-20 home runs in a given season.

His plus bat speed can almost be a detriment at times, as he knows he’s quick enough to put the bat on most pitcher’s pitches and therefore makes weak contact too often.

As part of his aggressive approach at the plate, Marte also strikes out too often—at least 21 percent of the time in his typical minor league season. And given the pure stuff and efficiency of major league pitchers, there’s a very real chance that his strikeout rate will exceed 21 percent.

Marte’s offensive success will be predicated on his ability to make adjustments, something that he has all the tools for but has been a gradual process during his minor league career.

In the outfield, Marte has the athleticism and skill set to be a dynamic big league outfielder and would probably patrol center field if it weren’t for Andrew McCutchen. Still, he has the plus speed, range and arm that is a clean fit in right field for the time being.

While Marte’s upside is overly apparent, for him to come close to reaching his ceiling will require ongoing adjustments and the refinement of his offensive skills.

So, given the fact that he’s still a work in progress and far from a polished prospect, is it worth trading him because it may take numerous years to finally put things together?

While there’s a sound argument for both scenarios, the Pirates are a team that has a bright future with top-ranked prospects (Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon and Alen Hanson) that should be contributing in the major leagues by 2014. Even though they are having a winning season, the organization needs to retain its emphasis on the future.

Executing such a trade is a highly calculated gamble: if the Pirates believe that they can contend for a World Series within the next two seasons with Choo, then they need to aggressively pursue the left-handed hitting outfielder.

However, while they are enjoying a tremendous season and have the potential to reach the postseason for the first time in what feels like forever, it’s difficult to imagine them reaching the World Series—and even if they did, what’s the likelihood that they’d beat either the Angels, Rangers or Yankees in a seven-game series?

The Pirates need to resist the urge to trade Marte, even if the return is an established and reliable major leaguer. He may not be a future superstar, but to part with him this early may be an unnecessary sacrifice for an organization with such a bright future.