On Tuesday we talked about another potential infield target for the Boston Red Sox in José Iglesias, who would not provide a major splash up the middle but could potentially add some depth on the bench as well as some much-needed defense. That post also talked just generally about where the team is at second base, a spot where an upgrade is certainly possible but not necessarily a must compared to some other spots on the roster. Even if it’s not a necessity, though, good front offices are looking to upgrade wherever they can, and Boston is surely at least considering some options to improve their standing at the keystone position.
On the free agency side of things, there aren’t many clear upgrades over what they already have aside from Trevor Story (or Carlos Correa if you move Xander Bogaerts to second, but that’s a conversation for another day). Story is fine, and the team has been connected to the former Colorado Rockie, but that market could prove too robust, especially with presumed focus in the outfield and bullpen. If that’s the case, the front office would then have to turn to the trade market, where the Arizona Diamondbacks may be willing to ship out Ketel Marte this winter.
Marte has been one of the quieter breakouts in recent years. Originally coming up with the Seattle Mariners back in 2015, the early parts of his career were spent as a borderline bench player before heading to Arizona. He first started to look like a potentially solid regular in 2018 before totally breaking out in 2019. That season he finished with a 149 wRC+, making a ton of contact while also hitting for big power. There was some concern about how real that performance was after he struggled in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, but he bounced back in a big way this past season.
In 2021, Marte looked a whole lot like the guy in 2019 who finished fourth in NL MVP voting that season. Last year, the now-28-year-old hit .318/.377/.532 for a 139 wRC+, nearly matching his power output from two years prior while continuing to make contact at a rate well above league-average and walking at right around an average rate. We should mention that he was only able to play in 90 games due to injury, but he came back for the latter portion of the season and finished the year healthy.
His offense would seem to be a tremendous fit at Fenway Park, too, as a switch hitter who can rack up a ton of extra base hits. Marte is certainly a better hitter from the right side going up against left-handed pitching, finishing with a spectacular 202 wRC+ in those situations this past season, but he also holds his own hitting from the left side as well. In 2021 against right-handed pitching he finished with a 112 wRC+. A line drive hitter who finished in the top 20 percent of the league in nearly all batted ball-related metrics last season per Baseball Savant, he could take advantage of Fenway’s dimensions and boost those power numbers with a handful of extra doubles and triples.
Defensively, Marte also checks the all-important versatility box that the Red Sox clearly lust over. For Boston, he would almost certainly slot in as the second baseman in the short-term, with Enrique Hernández being able to stay in center field where he looked so good in 2021. Marte, though, spent the majority of last season in center field and could fill in there when needed. That said, he grades out better at second base and would add positive defense up the middle to go along with his offense. We could also look a bit down the road, too, and if Marte was still here when prospects are ready to take an everyday spot on the infield, he could then move out to the outfield with relative ease.
And looking down the road is a valid course of action in the case of Marte because he has a team-friendly contract that covers more than just the coming season. Entering his age-28 season, he is on the books for just a $4.8 million hit against the luxury tax this coming season and has club options for 2023 and 2024 as well, coming in at $10 million and $12 million, respectively. If he’s even in the same neighborhood as his 2019 and 2021 production, those are huge values for the team. And in adding this kind of talent for such a relatively cheap price financially, the Red Sox would still be able to make that big splash in the outfield most of us are expecting while remaining in their presumed budget range.
Of course, the word financially above is a key one, because the cost to acquire Marte would only be cheap in that sense. Because of the talent, age, versatility, and team-friendly contract, he is not going to be a cheap get in terms of prospects going out. There will be a lot of teams pining for him if he is indeed available as expected, and the Red Sox would have to part with one of their best prospects to get the deal done. I think they could make this move without having to part with any of their top three of Triston Casas, Marcelo Mayer, or Nick Yorke, but Jarren Duran is probably the deepest they could go into the system while still being able to put together a reasonable package. That said, even as a big Duran fan, I’d ultimately be okay parting ways with the young outfielder as the head of a package to get a player who could make Marte’s impact.
After a run to the ALCS and a core that is still largely in its prime, as well as an improving farm system, now seems like a good time for the Red Sox to start being aggressive in looking ahead to 2022. Adding someone like Marte would be a huge step in that direction, not only improving the lineup substantially but also doing so while leaving enough financial breathing room to make impact moves in other areas as well. This market does have the potential to ramp up quickly and the Red Sox may find they’d have to give up more than they feel is reasonable, but when transactions open back up they should at least engage in conversation because Marte would open a lot of doors for the team now and down the road.