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Indians have what Pirates want for Starling Marte

I heard you like young, controllable catchers

Pittsburgh Pirates v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

It’s not technically an Indians rumor, but Jon Heyman is reporting that the Pirates are looking for a cost-controlled young pitcher in exchange for 31-year-old outfielder Starling Marte.

May I interest you in one Eric Haase, Mr. Pirates? He is relatively young at 26, not arbitration eligible until 2022, and can smash giant dongs. You in?

To be fair, Haase isn’t exactly a proven major-league catcher yet — in his very brief 34 plate appearances he has three hits and has struck out 14 times. Luckily the Pirates didn’t specify reliable or a known quantity when they leaked their desires to Heyman.

In the presence of Roberto Pérez and now Sandy León, there probably isn’t much room for Haase in 2020, and doesn’t he fit the Indians’ fascination with defensive-minded catchers. I said it before the Winter Meetings, and I reiterate it now: The Indians need to do something with him. He’s an unknown quantity, but he could still be a valuable trade piece and it’s a waste — and, frankly, unfair to Haase — to make him wallow in Triple-A while he could be playing in the majors somewhere.

Considering the Indians’ needs, you can’t find a better landing spot for him than Pittsburgh in exchange for the services of Starling Marte. Marte turned 31 in October, but he’s shown very few signs of slowing down — at the very least he probably won’t come to screeching halt before the Indians could decline his $12.5 million 2021 option if he doesn’t work out.

Last season with the Pirates, Marte slashed .295/.342/.503 with a career-high 23 home runs. His strikeout rate has dropped every single year since his 27.5% whiff rate in 2012, with the exception of 2016 when it jumped a whole 0.3% before dropping 1.1% in the following year. In 2020 it rested at a career-low 16.0% in 586 plate appearances.

As for a potential drop-off in his age-31 season, Steamer sees a 10-point dip in his wRC+, down to 109, but still has him hitting 22 bombs. He’s never hit the ball particularly hard — with a 35.3% hard-hit hate in 2015 and a career-high 38.5% hard-hit rate in 2020 — but he’s made it work with one of the highest sprint speeds in baseballs and the ability to hit the ball all over the field.

Based on Steamer projections, if the Indians were to bring over Marte in a trade, he would be their best outfielder in 2020 by a full 1.5 fWAR (1.8 fWAR if you don’t include “outfielder” Franmil Reyes), and he’d add yet another power threat to the lineup — right-handed, even!

None of this is to say a deal with actually happen, of course. Maybe the Pirates like Haase, but he’s clearly not enough on his own to get Marte. And with the $24 million he’s potentially owed over the next two years (or just $11.5 million in 2020 if the Indians decline his 2021 option), you can bet the Tribe will want some money in return so they aren’t bankrupt and forced to live in the outfield storage containers for warmth. That drives the prospect price even higher.

But there’s a match. It could still happen.