BRADENTON, Fla. – Starling Marte arrived at Pirate City today, a few days before the report date for position players. Marte is entering camp expected to be one of the leaders of the team on the field after the Pirates traded Andrew McCutchen this offseason. So when Marte met with the media this afternoon, a lot of the questions were about the McCutchen trade.
“Andrew McCutchen was a huge asset to me,” Marte said through team translator Mike Gonzalez. “He helped me a lot throughout my career, playing ball in the outfield. Not only was he a great teammate, but he helped me out a lot. He helped me grow, he taught me a lot, and he helped me enjoy the game to another level as well. I was a bit sad, but at the same time when new seasons and new changes come in life, it’s always good. I’m very excited for him. I wish him the best. I’m going to miss him extremely. I’ve had to learn that there’s some things in life that I can’t control, and I can’t control that he was traded. That’s someone else’s decision, and I respect and honor that. However, I’m going to miss my friend.”
Marte is coming off a rough season, to say the least. He started slow, then was suspended for 80 games for PED usage. He returned and struggled, before showing some positive signs in September and looking close to the 4 WAR player that he was in the years prior to 2017.
“These pitchers, they were already warmed up. They were ready to face me,” Marte said of his slow return last year from the suspension. “They had been playing throughout the whole season. I came in just kind of cold. It took me a little bit to be able to adjust. When I started getting warmed up and I got into my rhythm, that’s when Marte came out, the true Marte. I’m looking forward to going into this 2018 season.”
There weren’t any offseason changes to Marte’s workout plans. He played winter ball, and left with a hand injury, but said that it wasn’t a big deal. The only key difference is that he says he’s now extra cautious about what substances he takes, to the point where he’s not trusting anyone.
It was a year ago that Marte was slated to take over center field, moving McCutchen off the position in a change that was very controversial. Marte is now the guy in center field, with no drama surrounding the move, and no concern about how the star player of the team feels about moving off his spot. He’s been a good defender in the past, although that didn’t show up in the early season when he was in center.
“This kid is ready to come back and do something in center field he believes he can do,” Hurdle said. “He’s ready to play the game offensively the way he believes he can play it. Last year was a hard year. It showed him that it’s hard. He didn’t get a feel for the offensive game until the last ten days, two weeks. … He’s excited and he’s a driven player, just to be the best player that he can for this team.”
Marte said that there’s not much difference between his move to center last year and the one this year. He mentioned that the organization has always trusted him and shown respect to his game and his ability in center field, which hasn’t changed now.
The Pirates will enter the season needing a big bounce back from Marte, and from his friend and fellow outfielder Gregory Polanco. Marte worked out with Polanco in the offseason, and likes what he saw from Polanco’s conditioning.
“Greg and I, we’re really good friends,” Marte said. “We do almost everything together, especially working out. I see him at 100%. He learned a great lesson last year. He came into this offseason with a brand new mentality, working out hard, training hard, being careful with his diet, being conscious with the supplements and everything. I’ve seen so much improvement with Gregory. Even I, as a big brother figure, and a really good friend, there are moments when I really stand back and analyze. Is he really as good as he says he is, and I’ve got to agree. He’s running 100%, no issues with his legs. He looks really good.”
Marte said that neither he nor Polanco are approaching the season with pressure to replace McCutchen. Realistically, the Pirates will need them to bounce back from last year, and maybe even take a step forward from their previous best performances in order to contend in the future. But they’re not focusing on that, or the people pointing that out.
“We very well recognize that we lost a great athlete in Andrew McCutchen. However, we don’t feel much pressure when it comes to that,” Marte said. “We recognize that we have a role, the same way we recognized it when he was on the team. Gregory and I have a role. We’re going to help each other out as much as we can to be the best outfielders out there. … Our mentality is to work hard. Our mentality is to not put more pressure on ourselves than maybe others are trying to put on us. We’re just going to go out there and be the athletes that we are.”
Marte will need to show off his strong defense in center field this year, which didn’t happen in his first move to the position. The offense seems more of a certainty to return. The Pirates will hope that Marte returns to a 4 WAR player, and that he and Polanco can bounce back to help make up for the loss of McCutchen, even if Marte and Polanco aren’t viewing it that way.