Marte deal locks down Pirates in left field

Starling Marte agrees to six-year contract extension for a reported $31 million that buys out his arbitration years and first shot at free agency


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BRADENTON, Fla. -- Usually, being scratched from the lineup in spring training portends bad news. Not so Wednesday for Starling Marte.

Marte said he was fine in the Pirates clubhouse Wednesday morning, and he had every reason to be: This left fielder agreed to terms with the Pirates on a six-year contract extension that contains two club options, according to a source. The contract is worth $31 million, MLB Network Radio reported, and could keep Marte, 25, in Pittsburgh until 2021 if both options are exercised.

The contract buys out all three of Marte's arbitration years and at least one year of free agency, providing the Pirates with cost certainty for a player whose athleticism and talent point to improved production and higher salaries that would result from it. Marte, for his part, received long-term financial stability.

Starling Marte talks about contract extension

Pirates outfielder Starling Marte talks about his contract extension. (Video courtesy of ROOT SPORTS Pittsburgh)

The Pirates officially could announce the deal as early as today. General manager Neal Huntington declined to comment on the agreement.

"It is a part of our plan as we go forward to try and extend young players, but it would be inappropriate for me to comment further at this point," he said.

Marte signed with the Pirates out of the Dominican Republic for $85,000 in 2007. He made his major league debut in 2012, hitting a home run in Houston on the first pitch he saw. He played his first full season in 2013. Serving mostly as the leadoff batter, he hit .280 with a .343 on-base percentage, 12 home runs and 41 stolen bases.

"I think that's a great deal for him and for his family, too," starting pitcher Francisco Liriano said. "That way, he can play more, not thinking about next year or the next couple years. They got [Andrew McCutchen] and Marte and a couple guys [under contract]. They want to keep the team and win in the future."

Marte is built like a boxer and has incredible speed and a powerful arm. He saved 22 runs above average in 2013 and was a finalist for the National League Gold Glove award, but still has room to improve. He walked only 25 times in 566 plate appearances to go with 138 strikeouts, and the 15 times he was caught stealing led the NL.

In spring training two years ago, the Pirates signed center fielder Andrew McCutchen to a six-year extension with one club option. McCutchen, who had one more year of experience and had made the All-Star team in 2011, signed for $51.5 million.

Marte has one year and 70 days of major league service time. He would have been eligible for arbitration after the 2015 season, and that would have resulted in a raise from the near-minimum salary of slightly more than $500,000 he would have made the next two years. He could have become a free agent after the 2018 season.

At the end of Marte's extension, he will be 31, or 33 if both option years are exercised. The contract only guarantees the Pirates one extra year of control over Marte, but it locks in his salary for his prime, allowing them more flexibility in the future in free agency or at the trade deadline.

When a player reaches arbitration, his performance that season influences his salary for the next year. His representatives can argue for a salary based on what other players with similar performance and service time have been paid, meaning Marte's salary could have escalated with two more good years. The extension prevents that from happening.

Though the year-by-year breakdowns of Marte's salary are unknown, it is unlikely that the contract will have a drastic effect on the 2014 payroll. Teams usually back-load contracts -- the Pirates did with McCutchen's deal -- so they pay much more in the later years than the earlier ones.

Before coming to the Pirates, Huntington worked in the Cleveland Indians front office along with former general managers John Hart and Mark Shapiro. Hart pioneered the practice of offering extensions to young and talented but relatively unproven players in the 1990s. They agreed to extensions with several young players, including Manny Ramirez, Kenny Lofton and Omar Vizquel, as they tried to return to relevance with a small payroll. That trend continued in the 2000s with Grady Sizemore, CC Sabathia and Jhonny Peralta.

Earlier this spring, the Atlanta Braves went on a spree of extensions with their young core of players. First baseman Freddie Freeman, right-hander Julio Teheran, shortstop Andrelton Simmons, outfielder Jason Heyward and closer Craig Kimbrel, all of whom are 25 or younger, signed extensions.

The future

Contract numbers for the key members of the Pirates' young core.

* Pedro Alvarez, 3B: One year, $4.25 million (1st arbitration).

* Gerrit Cole, P: Pre-arbitration ($512,500)

* Starling Marte, LF: Six years, $31 million with club options for 2020 and 2021 (no figures on option value available).

* Andrew McCutchen, CF: Six years, $51.5 million, plus 2018 option for $14.5 million ($1 million buyout).

* Jose Tabata, RF: Six years, $15 million, plus options for 2017-19 ($6.5M, $7.5M, $8.5M, $250,000 buyout for each).

* Neil Walker, 2B: One year, $5.75 million (2nd arbitration).


Bill Brink: bbrink@post-gazette.com and Twitter @BrinkPG.

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