The Pittsburgh Pirates have taken another step towards securing their long-term future by signing outfielder Starling Marte to a six-year contract, according to CBS Sports' Jon Heyman:
Pirates and starling marte agree on 6-year extension. Includes at least 1 option year as well. Pending physical.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) March 26, 2014
MLB Network Radio's Jim Duquette and Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune added more details about the deal, including terms of the contract and how it can extend beyond the initial six years:
Source confirmed that the Marte deal is for 31 million - over 6 years.— Jim Duquette (@Jim_Duquette) March 26, 2014
Source confirms #pirates deal with Marte is six years with two club options.— Rob Biertempfel (@BiertempfelTrib) March 26, 2014
Marte's deal is the latest in a line of long-term contracts signed by pre-arbitration players this offseason, including those of Atlanta Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons and pitcher Julio Teheran.
While the idea of a long-term extension for a player who wouldn't have been eligible for free agency until 2019 doesn't seem like a big deal, consider what the Pirates have really invested in Marte and how the contract will benefit them.
Playing his first full season in the big leagues last year, Marte instantly established himself as Pittsburgh's No. 2 position player behind 2013 National League Most Valuable Player Andrew McCutchen.
Marte, 25, did a little bit of everything for the Pirates. He hit .280/.343/.441 with 26 doubles, 10 triples, 12 homers, 41 stolen bases and 83 runs scored.
For perspective on how impressive those numbers are, take a look at the list of players who had at least 25 doubles, 10 triples, 10 homers and 40 stolen bases in 2013:
|Carlos Gomez, Milwaukee||27||10||24||40|
|Jean Segura, Milwaukee||20||10||12||44|
|Starling Marte, Pittsburgh||26||10||12||41|
Carlos Gomez, a defensive wizard in center field for Milwaukee, finished ninth in NL MVP voting last year on the strength of his season.
Marte, playing left field, doesn't have the same value Gomez does because the latter plays a premium position, but he's got a similar offensive skill set and was a top-three defensive left fielder in 2013 by FanGraphs' metrics.
The young Dominican is also a tremendous baserunner. In addition to stealing 41 bases, Marte ranked seventh in runs above average on the bases last year, according to FanGraphs.
When you take all these numbers into consideration, combined with the fact Marte would have had two more seasons to pad his stats before arbitration, the Pirates could have been looking at paying him in the range of $4.3 million for one year, which Gomez got from the Brewers in January 2013 before he agreed to a three-year contract extension through 2016 two months later.
Instead of having to worry about setting aside money in their limited budget for Marte moving forward, the Pirates have signed one of their brightest young stars to a contract that will pay him an average of $5 million for the next six years.
Brett Gardner, a similar offensive player who plays the same position as Marte but is five years older, got a four-year contract extension from the New York Yankees this offseason that will pay him an average of $13 million per season.
When you are a team with a restricted payroll, as the Pirates are, being able to sign young players, especially homegrown stars that you know better than anyone, at your price is the key to sustaining success.
Pittsburgh general manager Neal Huntington basically said as much to Biertempfel in a piece for the Pittsburgh Tribune about the team's efforts in trying to lock up Marte:
We've talked repeatedly about the willingness to pursue appropriate extensions being part of our philosophy as we go forward. We'll be selective in that. You can't just go extend everybody because they don't all work, despite the myth that these are always club-friendly deals. Right situation, right player, right contract — we'll absolutely take a look at it. Who knows where we'll go with it?
How would you rate Starling Marte's extension?
The franchise made a huge statement nearly two years ago to the day by signing McCutchen to a six-year contract extension. Marte isn't at McCutchen's level—few players are—but has the ability to be a 3-or-4-WAR player for the duration of this contract.
Putting Marte alongside McCutchen, along with a good young nucleus that includes Gerrit Cole, prospects Gregory Polanco and Jameson Taillon and a farm system that Baseball America ranked No. 1 entering 2014 is a sign that the Pirates' success in 2013 won't be a one-year fluke.
There is risk from the Pirates' side. Marte was fantastic offensively last season, but a 138-25 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 510 at-bats suggests that his .363 batting average on balls in play isn't likely to be duplicated.
That inability to make contact and draw walks showed in the second half of 2013, as Marte's average went from .291 before the All-Star break to .254 after, while his slugging percentage dropped from .462 to .387.
But when you consider the package of skills Marte has, from his speed to baserunning to defense, the Pirates aren't taking a huge risk. And the reward, based on average annual salary, has the potential to be huge, considering what a 4.5-WAR player, which he was last year, could get on the open market.
There were a lot of dark days in Pittsburgh before last season, but as Marte's success last year and subsequent contract extension will prove, the sun is shining brightly over PNC Park right now.
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