Desire to stay with Pirates made contract decision easy for left fielder Marte



BRADENTON, Fla. — In addition to the 31 million reasons to commit now to a contract extension, Starling Marte had a few that aren’t easily quantified.

“I didn’t feel like I needed to wait because I like where I am, I have confidence where I am, I like the organization,” said Marte in Spanish, with his agent, Peter Greenberg, translating. “I feel comfortable. I like the fans, what the team’s doing and building toward. I know I want to be a part of that.”

Marte spoke Thursday morning, shortly after the Pirates announced the six-year contract extension that will keep him in Pittsburgh until 2019, possibly 2021 if both club options are exercised.

Starling Marte talks about contract extension

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

Marte is guaranteed $31 million during the life of the deal and will receive a $2 million signing bonus and make $500,000 in 2014, according to a source with direct knowledge of the contract. The salary increases to $1 million in 2015, $3 million in 2016, $5 million in 2017, $7.5 million in 2018 and $10 million in 2019.

Marte’s contract contains two club options. The 2020 option is worth $11.5 million with a $2 million buyout, and the 2021 option is for $12.5 million with a $1 million buyout. The salary for both options could increase by up to $1 million each with escalators on MVP voting, bringing the total possible value of the contract to $55 million for eight years.

Had Marte waited until he was eligible for arbitration or free agency, he could have secured a larger contract. But he said he felt no reason to wait, citing both the financial guarantee he and his family received and his happiness with the Pirates as reasons to sign now.

The Pirates understood Marte would become more expensive.

“In this situation with Starling Marte, we have a quality young man, we have a dynamic athlete that’s a very good baseball player who we believe better days are ahead,” general manager Neal Huntington said.

Marte’s days have been good already. He hit .280 with a .343 on-base percentage in 2013, his first full season in the majors, at age 24. He stole 41 bases and hit 12 home runs.

Aware that, because of Marte’s athleticism and skill, those numbers are likely to improve, the Pirates secured cost certainty rather than chancing a hefty pay raise through arbitration. The deal only bought out one guaranteed year of free agency but locked in prices for the next six seasons. Marte will make a combined $15.5 million from 2016-18, the seasons in which he would have been eligible for arbitration.

“A big key for an organization in these type of agreements is that you know what it’s going to cost,” Huntington said. “And now, how do we build around Starling? How do we build around Andrew McCutchen as we move forward? How do we build around the good young players that we have under contract and the good young players that we have coming? How do we supplement them through trades and free agency? These type of agreements help you build around those core players.”

Regardless of Marte’s potential future earnings or the effect the contract has on the Pirates’ payroll flexibility in the future, the deal represents a massive payday for the left fielder, whom Pirates director of Latin American scouting Rene Gayo signed for $85,000 out of the Dominican Republic when Marte was 18.

“I’m sure he never imagined this day awhile back, and now here we are,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “And knowing the type of young man he is and what he represents each and every day, that he will put forth his best effort, always.”

Marte downplayed any pressure the contract could cause — “I’ve always been a fighter, I’ve always had goals to reach” — but said the organization’s desire to invest in him offered reassurance.

“It gives me a lot more confidence to know I’ve had all these people that have helped me, and it gives me even more confidence going forward that I have so many people that believed in me and have helped me to get to this point,” Marte said.


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

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