Our long national nightmare is over. The White Sox finally put an end to their season-high five-game losing streak on Wednesday in Pittsburgh. They'll return home to full capacity capabilities on Friday with a record of 44-30 and in first place. It was, admittedly, a tough week for the Sox against the mighty Houston Astros and lowly Pittsburgh Pirates, but the road trip is over so it's time to flush it and move on to the Seattle Mariners.
Earlier in the week, I highlighted the areas of need I felt this team must address in the coming weeks leading up to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. It's time to begin looking at who the targets should be as the White Sox need to begin patching the holes in earnest in effort to solidify their position as a viable contender. From my perspective, the one area that needs to be addressed more than all others would be the outfield. Particularly, centerfield in the absence of Luis Robert.
As I wrote earlier in the week, I believe it would be prudent of this organization to prepare for the worst-case scenario of Robert not suiting up again until the team reports to Glendale in February of 2022. If he comes back, it's icing on the cake for this team. Furthermore, if a reasonably healthy Robert returns to the lineup and handles centerfield duties, then my primary trade target would give you an elite corner (most likely right field) outfielder.
The man is none other than Starling Marte of the Miami Marlins. The 32-year-old Marte is enjoying a career year to this point in 2021, despite missing several weeks due to an oblique injury in late April. For the season, Marte is slashing a robust .324/.426/.522, good for a 166 wRC+. This is elite-level production for any outfielder, let alone someone manning centerfield in cavernous LoanDepot Park (see folks, someone topped Guaranteed Rate Field).
One of the most notable changes for Marte thus far in 2021 is his career-best 13% BB rate. If there has been a concentrated effort to work counts more effectively on his part, this would just add another dimension to his game that we haven't previously seen. Inserting that level of patience, even if it tapered off to a degree, makes this White Sox lineup even more dangerous.
Checking Several Boxes
Marte is a perfect fit on many levels for the Sox. His combination of power and speed would instantly add a serious weapon to the White Sox lineup at the top of the order (presumably). His ability to handle centerfield makes him a prime target given the uncertainty surrounding Luis Robert. To this point in 2021, Marte has played a dazzling centerfield in the spacious warehouse down in South Florida, producing 3 Outs Above Average which puts him in the 88th percentile using StatCast's defensive metric. This is nothing to sneeze at, folks. There is a significant amount of ground to cover at the ballpark down in Miami relative to the ballpark at 35th/Shields. Playing home games there would almost feel like an off day for Marte.
Should Robert return at some point in September, Marte's elite athleticism would allow him to easily shift to a corner and give the White Sox an elite defensive pairing in the outfield. This would significantly help the pitching staff in September and October when outs are truly at a premium. Marte's elite speed also can't be ignored on the bases. Earlier in the year, I wrote about the team's ability to take an extra 90 feet at a time and how it was helping to counterbalance the decreased power production. Marte would add to this group, as he has already amassed 2.9 BsR above average according to Fangraphs.
Splitting the Difference
One thing that has been harped on semi-regularly by members of the White Sox fan base in recent years, is their struggles at times against RHP. Marte would greatly help to balance this despite hitting from the right side of the plate. Take a look at Marte's career splits:
Marte has produced offensive output 20% greater than league average against RHP for his career, and that is the type of balance that the White Sox could desperately use as they will have to go through some daunting RHP if they are to make a run deep into October. His 2021 splits are even more promising, thus far:
Marte is having the best offensive season of his career playing in a huge ballpark with little protection in the lineup to help him. Imagine slotting this bat in the two-hole (don't overthink it, Tony) between Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada. This is the type of scenario that would give opposing pitchers nightmares in pivotal games. Marte's bat alone would significantly lengthen a White Sox lineup that has shown to be a little short in recent weeks, and his presence surely would help improve this team's run production.
Starling Marte is truly a complete player. He has proven to be an above-average bat throughout the entirety of his career and he's performing at an elite level at the plate in 2021. He has also shown to be a consistently stellar defender and base runner. This is the type of player that any contending team should be in the market to acquire come July. The 32-year-old is in the final season of his contract that will pay him $12.5 million total for the season. This is a relatively small price in terms of dollars for a guy that is projecting to be a 6-win player in 2021.
The problem for the White Sox may come in the fact that I'm not sure they can match the offers other contending teams that are in need of outfield help can give the Marlins. The minor-league cupboard is, well, not fully stocked let's say. The Sox don't have many appealing pieces in the upper minors, and many of the young prospects that teams covet in trades down in Low-A Kannapolis have underperformed thus far coming off the pandemic. Will teams overlook the unpleasant stat lines and rely on their scouts to properly identify tools within the young players? I think that is what the White Sox have to hope for at this point.
Realistically, the following contenders could all use Marte to help shore up their outfield: Yankees, Brewers, Braves, Red Sox, Astros, Mets, and Indians. Can you imagine how detrimental it would be to the White Sox's chances of winning the division if the Indians somehow swooped in and got Marte? Or how about if the Astros slotted him into that already daunting lineup in place of the light-hitting Miles Straw in center? That wouldn't help the Sox cause if they run into them again in October.
I don't pretend to know what it will take to get Marte. Would it take Jared Kelley and another prospect arm? If so, the White Sox need to get it done. Marte is the type of player you should look at as being part of your team for the next 2-3 seasons if you can acquire him. His skill set is one that will consistently provide value and the White Sox need to be both bold and willing to do what it takes to acquire a player of Marte's caliber.
In It To Win It
This team has significant question marks in the outfield at the moment and into the future. Marte could help answer some of these questions. Relying on Andrew Vaughn and Eloy Jimenez, who have defensive questions, and minor league players like Yoelqui Cespedes or Micker Adolfo who haven't shown that they can handle pitching even close to the highest level is not a winning solution for a team that wants to have a parade in the near future.
Starling Marte is a perfect fit for the White Sox on so many levels. He adds versatility and elite skills in multiple facets that would instantly make the South Siders a more well-rounded baseball team. He should be the top target for Rick Hahn and co. as the White Sox look to fortify the roster for a postseason run. I'm not very confident they have the bullets needed to acquire Marte, but they damn sure better be doing everything in their power.
Time is of the essence, this team needs reinforcements now, and sitting back could allow teams they are competing with to make stronger offers. Starling Marte is the guy this White Sox team needs, so be bold, go get him, and let's have a Marte partay!