- Rating: 7.55
- Age: 32
- 2020 Stats With Arizona: 33 games, .311/.384/.443, 2 HR, 8 2B, 1 3B, 14 RBI, 23 R, 121 OPS+, 1 bWAR,
- 2021 Status: Miami Marlins exercised $12.5 million team option
It was supposed to be a Marte Party, or so we were told. The Arizona Diamondbacks acquired Starling Marte from the Pittsburgh Pirates just before the start of Spring Training on January 27th, 2020. Mike Hazen paid a fairly hefty price in trading 2019 first round draft pick pitcher Brennan Malone, along with Liover Peguero, and international bonus money. In acquiring the former two time Gold Glove outfielder, the team was able to move Ketel Marte (no relation) back to second base full time.
Tragically, Starling’s wife Noelia Brazoban died from a heart attack while awaiting ankle surgery in May prior to the start of the shortened 2020 season. Losing her caused him to contemplate retiring from the game. However, the Diamondbacks built a support system around him, and Ken Kendrick provided his personal plane to both Starling and Ketel to return to the United States from the Dominican Republic with their families.
In circumstances that would undoubtedly devastate anyone, Starling Marte was able to honor his late wife as one of the best players on the Diamondbacks roster. Despite playing in only 33 games with Arizona in 2020, he scored more runs than David Peralta, had five less hits than Eduardo Escobar, and led the team in stolen bases.
Beyond the first week of the season, his batting average reached a season high of .369 on August 12th following a three game series against the Colorado Rockies. Marte had a pair of three hit games in that series, two of the five he had on the season. In the series finale, Starling drove in four runs which was then his season high.
The brothers Marte combined for one of the most exciting Diamondbacks’ plays of the season on August 15th. Arizona had squabbled a 7-1 lead after seven innings allowing the San Diego Padres to come within one run in the top of the ninth with two outs. Jurickson Profar hit a grounder to right center field that Starling had to travel far to reach because he was playing in deep center. Jorge Mateo was running before contact and had plenty of speed to try and score from first on the hit. Starling and Ketel strung together two throws on a rope to cut down Mateo at the plate and end the game.
Unfortunately, Starling’s strong performance on the field was unable carry the anchor that was the rest of the offense. Arizona was falling further back in the standings as the trade deadline neared at the end of August. Then it was revealed that the team did not plan to exercise their option on the center fielder if they did not trade him. In any regular season, the thought of not exercising a team option on your best offensive player would be... well not even a thought. But this was far from a typical season, and the Diamondbacks were already posturing to trim salary, like many other teams, because of decreased revenues without fans in the stands.
Arizona surrendered a former first round draft pick and received valuable performance out of Starling in return. They then turned around and made it known that they were not going to exercise his team option before they traded him. That resulted in pennies on the dollar return in a trade with the playoff contending Miami Marlins (???). Yeah, it was like that. The Diamondbacks received Humberto Mejia, Caleb Smith, and Julio Frias from Miami on August 31st. Sure, Brennan Malone has a long way to go, and it remains to be seen if he will be a successful MLB pitcher. An argument can also be made that Starling is closer to a player somewhere in between the performance he turned in for Arizona and Miami. He was far better in a D’backs uniform and will be entering his age 32 season. But the frustration for me remains in that Arizona was looking to cut payroll and traded away a very exciting player who helped the Miami Marlins reach the playoffs.
A unique feature of his journey in 2020 is that Starling was the only player to appear in 61 regular season games during a 60 game season. This was possible because the Miami Marlins had to suspend play earlier in the season with a COVID outbreak on their team. Only 32 players have ever turned in a season with more than 162 games played. The last player to do so was Justin Morneau who appeared in 163 in 2008. We were fortunate to have been able to watch Starling for a measly 33 games, and I’d probably have much more to rave about given the opportunity to root for him for a full season.