Earlier today Jon Heyman of MLB Network tweeted out that the Pittsburgh Pirates were looking to get back a “young, controllable catcher” in return for All-Star outfielder Starling Marte. The Cincinnati Reds have spent their offseason pursuing ways to upgrade their offense. They went after both Yasmani Grandal and Didi Gregorius, but came up short. They landed Mike Moustakas to slot in at second base for the next four or five years. And rumors persist that they are interested in outfielders Marcell Ozuna and Shogo Akiyama, too.

While it’s always better to go out and just spend money to acquire players rather than spend money and have to trade away talent to acquire players, sometimes the latter can be the better option if the fit is right. On paper, Starling Marte is a better option than any of the outfielders that the Reds are interested in on the free agent market. Last season he hit .295/.342/.503 for Pittsburgh with 31 doubles, six triples, 23 home runs, and he stole 25 bases. And he did all of that while playing center field. He also has experience in left field. His 120 OPS+ in 2019 is better than any single season that Mike Moustakas has ever had, just to add some context to how valuable his offensive output was – and that’s without considering he also added 25 steals.

His contract isn’t bad, either. He would be under team control through the end of the 2021 season. Marte is due $11,500,000 in 2020 and there’s a team option for $12,500,000 in 2021 with a $1,000,000 buyout. That would take him through his age 32 season before he would reach free agency. He’s not quite a rental, but also not a long-term investment.

Cincinnati also has exactly what the Pirates are looking for, a young and controllable catcher. The Reds #3 overall prospect, and an overall Top 100 prospect, Tyler Stephenson is coming off of a season where he hit .285/.372/.410 in Double-A, good for an OPS+ of 130. He then went to the Arizona Fall League where he hit .353/.421/.549 in 57 plate appearances. While he’s probably in need of some time in Triple-A next year, he’s on the verge of being Major League ready.

Trading a guy like Tyler Stephenson wouldn’t be an easy deal to pull the trigger on for the Reds. He’s been the Reds top catching prospect since he was drafted, and after a few years of dealing with injuries he has really put things together the last few seasons. Cincinnati was willing to bring in a guy like Yasmani Grandal, which would have made the Stephenson situation a bit different without a clear path to the big leagues – but the current catching situation in Cincinnati isn’t there. Tucker Barnhart is a free agent in two or three years depending on if the Reds are willing to pick up his option for 2022 at a price of $7,500,000 ($500,000 buyout). Grandal would have been around longer than that if he had signed with Cincinnati.

The Reds would certainly be going for it if they made this kind of deal. Starling Marte would be a big improvement to the 2020 Reds. And it would signal that right now is more important than the future, especially if Cincinnati had to give up a top prospect with a position opening in the near future, too.

There are a lot of moving parts in a deal like this. The Reds would need to weigh winning now versus the future of needing to find another catcher down the line. They would need to weigh how it would shake out their outfield and who would play where, with Marte, Nick Senzel, Jesse Winker, and Aristides Aquino all players who would be looking for significant playing time. There’s a reason the guys who make these decisions get paid the big bucks. It’s not an easy choice to make on a lot of these kinds of moves.

Photo of Starling Marte by Ian D’Andrea. Photo has been modified. License can be found here.

30 Responses

  1. Wes

    Marte has highest ceiling out of any outfielder you can acquire. I still think I would settle for Corey Dickerson. Plenty of power hitters catch on late in their career and aquinos ceiling is higher than the whole lot of them. Reds need to position themselves to be able to move away from guy they sign if aquino breaks out again. Can’t do that w marte or Ozuna or Castellini

  2. My Beloved Reds

    Great article Doug! Wow, while one of my dream jobs is to be an MLB GM, its situations like this that make me realize how tough of a job that would be. Marte would absolutely make us better offensively, but I think I’ve recently read that his defensive metrics are trending downward. Doug, would you please educate me on that? As far as trading Stephenson, that’s where it gets tough. The Reds have been patient with this former 1st rounder and it looks like that patience is getting ready to pay off. Tough decision, not to mention that adding Marte creates a glut in the outfield. With Siri possibly being ready in 2021 and Marte being a FA after 2021, adding him makes sense. It would give Siri a year to get acclimated to the big league level. But, what do we do with the Winkler, Aquino and Ervin trio. I don’t think the FO can be sure what they have on any of that trio. Thoughts?

    • KDJ

      Important to remember that no one did what Aquino did during his first month. I expect him to be very good, but I am not setting the bar that high.

  3. MBS

    Marte would be a huge impact on the team, and I believe it to be enough to trade away a nice prospect like Stephenson. I’m 41 years old and I’ve only got to experience 1 World Series, and I am ready for my 2nd. If they add another quality pitcher on a 4 year deal, the Reds will be set for a nice run through 2023.

    Hopefully with all of the new changes to player development, we will be able to produce many more good prospects in the near future.

    Let’s Win Now

  4. CFD3000

    If the Reds can package Barnhart or Casali with Iglesias, or prospects not named Lodolo, Greene, or most importantly, Tyler Stephenson, then Marte would be a nice upgrade. But I’m not in favor of betting six years of Stephenson against two years of Marte. I’m glad the Reds missed on Gregorius and I really hope Ozuna is a NO. Marte makes a lot of sense, but Tyler Stephenson is in my opinion too high an asking price.

    • TR

      Catching is too important a position. Stay with Tyler Stephenson, and likewise, Luis Castillo.

    • Fish

      Didi got 14 million for 1 year, you’d pass on that? That would be a ridiculously good deal for the reds.

  5. RedsFan11

    I for one am not glad that the Reds missed on Didi and Grandal, especially looking at what they got. But I do agree with the majority that they should not sign Ozuna. And since everyone thinks that, that of course means he will be signed by end of week ugh lol

  6. Jeff Gangloff

    I’m really hoping the Reds don’t sign Ozuna. He’s Puig 2.0 but with more more of a commitment.

    They can do better.

    • Big Ed

      This is a very correct opinion. His OPS+ the last two years was 106 and 107, offset a bit last year by a low BABIP. He was putrid in left field in the playoffs, and he strikes me as a guy with mediocre eyesight.

  7. Redsvol

    if Stephenson and a lower prospect (not top 15) would get it done then I’d go after Marte. I’m not sure what Stephenson becomes but I don’t think we’ll regret it too bad. Marie is good choice given his position, age, and production. I wish he was more of an OBP guy but heck there really aren’t any.

    I would love to know what Reds offered Didi and Grandal. If close to winning bids, one has to wonder why they chose what they did.

  8. Colorado Red

    If it takes Stephenson, I would do it.
    It takes something to get something.
    He is a lot better the Cory D.

  9. CallowayPost

    I had this whole thing typed out, even attempted to sound smart with a trade idea…

    Truth is, the Reds are now are being forced to be crafty. I said it before, teams see our checkbook open and would test our willingness, especially being in a similar boat.

    The Reds are going to have to burn cash to get another great talent, and trade from whatever overflow that gives them.

    BTW, Phillies are wicked assholes.


      I think it’s Joe Gerardi being the new manager is why Didi signed with them

  10. Burtgummer

    I’m guessing this won’t happen as their saying Castillo to Houston for Correa and Reddick I can only hope it’s not true

    • Burtgummer

      I hope you’re right

      Alex “Juicy” Jensen
      Hearing that Luis Castillo is likely to be headed to Houston in return for a package of Correa and Reddick. Still some time for physicals or legal issues to make things fall through. Reds could be getting their cornerstone SS to build around. Houston replacing Cole and cutting $

      This is copied and pasted apologies if it’s not allowed


      I hope it’s only a rumour

    • My Beloved Reds

      I would think that Castillo is untouchable. At least, I’m hoping he is!!!

    • burtgummer

      Nothing new this morning so maybe just a fake thing

  11. RedNat

    Frustrating we lose to the Phillies and Sox. Who knows if we will make anymore moves this offseason but one thing is for sure. This team would be a lot better with didi at shortstop and Grandal behind the player rather than Glavis and Barnhart. Even if we get another outfielder I am not sure it will be enough now.

  12. Steve Schoenbaechler

    As close as Stephenson is, and we would get Marte for just 2 years, I would have to say no. I do believe Marte would be a great fit. But, Stephenson is too close. If they want Casali or Barnhardt with another lower level prospect, alright.

    • Steve Schoenbaechler

      I still say go after Shogo.

  13. James H.

    No. Like pitching, catching is a base of stability the Reds should continue to pipeline. Pipeline your pitching and catching; they’re a long-term within the team and should grow together.

  14. Daytonian

    If Marte does not sign here, do the Reds have an interest in Kevin Pillar for CF (or a 4th outfielder)? Giants non-tendered him. Pillar has a good glove, some power, and was loved by Giants fans. Pillar is reliable, having played in nearly every game last year.

    FanSided (Rumbunter.com) gives the metrics: “He slashed .259/.287/.432 with a .173 ISO and a wRC+ of 85. This slugging was a new career high, topping his previous career high of .426 in 2018, while his ISO fell just short of the career best .174 ISO he posted in 2018. His 21 home runs in 2019 was also a new career high, and his 10.0% extra base hit rate was the second highest of his career…”

    FanSided also notes that Pillar has a ” lifetime defensive runs saved of +60 in the outfield… a +45 DRS in center.” He was 2015 Wilson Defensive POY in CF and received the same award in 2016 from Fielding Bible.

    Pillar seems like a great value player and, with his glove even more than his bat, would be a fit with the Reds in CF despite the surplus of outfielders already on the Cincy roster.

  15. Earmbrister

    There’s NO WAY that I’d trade Tyler Stephenson for Marte. Quality catching is much money re valuable than a CFr. TS had some injuries earlier in his career, but seems to have turned a corner. And we have a CFr in Senzel. Let Senzel continue to grow into the position, and he should provide a big bat at a position not known for hitters.

    Just say no.

    • Big Ed

      This is a correct opinion, too. Marte is 31 and has a career OPS+ of 115. He would essentially take ABs from Winker, who is 26 and has a career OPS+ of 120. Good young catchers are hard to come by.

      Not gonna do it. Wouldn’t be prudent. Not at this juncture.

  16. Phil

    Whether it’s Marte, or someone else, I think adding someone who can play center field and hit lefties would be a great add to this roster.
    This allows Bell to rest Votto more often against left-handed starters. Moustakas could cover first those days with Senzel moving to second. Marte would then cover center with Ervin filling his side of the platoon in left.
    Marte and Senzel could also cover CF and 2B with Moustakas moving to third for games that Suarez needs a rest.
    Having another player who can legitimately play CF allows the Reds to take better advantage of the positional flexibility of Senzel and Moustakas. Another legit outfielder also gives insurance if Winker spends more time on the injured-list or Aquino plays like he did in September instead of August.
    If not Marte maybe the Red Sox send the Reds Benintendi along with one of their bad pitcher contracts? AJ Pollock could also likely be had for a cheap return with the Dodgers just wanting his contract off their books.

  17. Jacob

    I’d do India, Siri, and Okey for Marte.

  18. MFG

    I like the idea of going after Marte. I think with Didi signing elsewhere it really changed allot of things. Now Galvis is your SS and we probably need Bandino as a backup?
    Go after Marte and offer Ervin and another minor leaguer? I also think our bullpen is better than most people think with Cody Reed, Sims and Kuhnel.