The Mariners seem to be casting a wide net in their search for a right-handed bat, but targeting Starling Marte is about as ambitious as it gets. The Pirates are in the thick of the Wild Card race in the National League at just two games back, and while they do have an excess of outfielders, only Andrew McCutchen has been good at the plate this year. Gregory Polanco, their 22 year-old crown jewel, is off to a slow start in his rookie season, and previously rumored M's target Jose Tabata is now back in AAA. Everyone is still waiting for Travis Snider to be good.
So now the Mariners might be attempting to buy low on Marte, via a report in the Beaver County Times. Marte hasn't had a great year at the plate with a 105 wRC+, but has still been worth 1.8 fWAR, thanks to his excellent defense and blazing speed. Marte was worth a whopping 4.4 fWAR last season before signing an extension worth $31 guaranteed through 2019, with a couple of potentially bargain team options tacked on the end to take his control through 2021. It was only a few months ago that Marte's contract was praised as an absolute steal, and that's with this season's expected regression for Marte built in.
It's obvious why the Mariners would want Marte. He's right-handed, young, cheaply controlled, athletic, and crushes left-handed pitching. He rarely walks and strikes out a ton, but provides extra value on defense and the basepaths. He's the essentially the perfect target, and if the Mariners could land him without giving up Taijuan Walker, they'd be netting themselves a huge get. In all honesty, there's a chance they could win a possible deal even if they did decide to give up Walker, though that's a harder, murkier sell.
Unfortunately, there's approximately zero chance of this happening. By locking up Marte this spring and attempting to do the same for Polanco even before his promotion, the Pirates have assembled their ideal, homegrown outfield for many years going forward. The Mariners want to break that up because they see a perceived surplus of outfielders and a need for pitching/closing, but the timing makes no sense. Both the Pirates and the Mariners are likely buyers at this point, so a swap that benefits both teams immediately, let alone long-term, is a near impossibility. Nick Franklin could potentially make sense for the Pirates, but we're talking about one step forward and one step back. Even now, at 105 wRC+, Starling Marte is good. 2014 Nick Franklin could be good, but he also could fall flat. Why would the Pirates take that risk?
It seems entirely plausible that the Mariners covet Starling Marte. It would be an impact acquisition, even if the bat isn't splashy. But even if the Pirates were out the race this year, expecting them to ship off Marte just months after inking him to a team-friendly deal is borderline ridiculous. Over the next week, a lot of rumors like this will pop up, and we'll give our take. There's not much take to give this time, other than this: Starling Marte is the theirs and we probably can't have him.