One of the best and most talented all-around players in baseball has tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug.
Major League Baseball announced Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Starling Marte was suspended 80 games Tuesday after testing positive for Nandrolone, a PED on the banned substance list. The suspension begins immediately.
Marte issued the following statement Tuesday afternoon, after the suspension was announced:
"I have been informed that I have tested positive in one of the tests that are regularly done in my job. In this very difficult moment I apologize to my family, the Pittsburgh Pirates, my teammates, my fans, and baseball in general. Neglect and lack of knowledge have led me to this mistake with the high price to pay of being away from the field that I enjoy and love so much. With much embarrassment and helplessness, I ask for forgiveness for unintentionally disrespecting so many people who have trusted in my work and have supported me so much. I promise to learn the lesson that this ordeal has left me. God bless you."
Team president Frank Coonelly released the following statement:
Marte, 28, had been off to a slow start this season, hitting .241/.288/.370 (79 OPS+) with two home runs in 13 games. He was a first-time All-Star in 2016 thanks to a .311/.362/.456 (117 OPS+) batting line with 34 doubles, nine home runs and 47 stolen bases. Add in his Gold Glove defense and you get a player who has been worth roughly 5 WAR in each of the past three seasons.
The Pirates signed Marte to a six-year contract worth $31 million three years ago. This season the club rearranged its outfield to get Marte, the best defender, in center field. Gregory Polanco slid over to left field and franchise cornerstone Andrew McCutchen moved to right.
Here are five things to know about Marte's suspension and its impact on the Pirates.
Nandrolone is a synthetic anabolic steroid that is being used less often medically as time goes on. It is typically an injection-only drug, though it can show up in tests for other drugs taken orally:
Correction on Marte drug: Nandrolone rarely taken orally, but Deca Durabolin -- which can test + for Nandrolone -- is often orally consumed.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) April 18, 2017
Nandrolone can promote muscle growth and bone density, increase appetite and improve red blood cell production. It is an old school steroid that has been used by athletes since the 1960s. It has been banned in the Olympics since 1974.
What happens to Marte now?
Per the terms of the joint drug agreement between MLB and the Major League Baseball Players Association, Marte will not be paid or accrue service time during the suspension. Also, Marte will not be eligible to play in the postseason, should the Pirates qualify. For the time being he can work out on his own, and he will be allowed to play minor-league tuneup games as his suspension nears an end.
Going forward Marte will be subject to more random drug tests by MLB. A second positive test would result in a 162-game suspension. A third would result in a lifetime ban. To date only one player, former New York Mets closer Jenrry Mejia, has tested positive for PEDs three times.
What do the Pirates do in center field?
This is the most interesting question. The team acknowledged McCutchen's defense is in decline -- and it clearly is, based on both the eye test and various defensive stats -- though moving him back to his natural position would be the easy move. Polanco played center for the Dominican Republic during the World Baseball Classic, so he's an option too.
Really, it's going to come down to what the Pirates want to do with McCutchen. They already asked him to move to right field in favor of the superior defender once, a move he handled graciously. Would they ask him to stay in right field now, and instead let Polanco play center, potentially slighting McCutchen again? There's a balancing act between doing what's best for the team and keeping players happy and productive. Clint Hurdle will have to navigate that. For now, Cutch goes to center field.
Andrew McCutchen will move back to CF with Marte out, Clint Hurdle confirms. Mix of players -- Frazier, Osuna, Jaso, JHay -- will play in RF— Adam Berry (@adamdberry) April 18, 2017
Regardless of who plays where, the Pirates now have an open outfield spot and need to replace Marte in the lineup. They could stick either Adam Frazier or Alen Hanson in the outfield more often, or perhaps move first baseman Josh Bell back to the outfield, where he started his professional career. That would allow John Jaso to play first base full-time.
The Pirates have one of the best outfield prospects in baseball in their farm system in Austin Meadows, who is hitting .162/.220/.270 through 10 Triple-A games. He's off to a slow start but has turned it on of late.
MLB.com recently ranked Meadows as the seventh-best prospect in baseball. and, by all accounts, he's a budding star. One of the reasons the Pirates looked to trade McCutchen this past offseason was to open up playing time for Meadows. Now there's a clear path to get him in the MLB lineup thanks to Marte's suspension. I suspect we'll see him before long.
The Pirates' postseason chances take a hit
Needless to say, losing Marte for half the season is a huge blow to the Pirates. Here's what our SportsLine projections say about the impact of Marte's suspension:
|Projected Wins||Winning %||Playoff %|
Before Marte's suspension
After Marte's suspension
With all due respect to SportsLine, my guess is losing Marte for 80 games is going to cost the Pirates more than one game in the standings, but the big takeaway here is the playoff percentage declined by 27 percent. He's a legitimate 5 WAR player, and while Pittsburgh has some options to replace him internally, I'm not sure any of them can lessen the impact of Marte's suspension that much.
The fantasy implications are significant
Marte of course is a force at the plate and on the bases, and this season he was pinning down an up-the-middle position. As such, he was a coveted fantasy player. When it comes to the fallout of Marte being out for half a season,.
You don't have to decide today necessarily, but the next time you need to add a player and don't feel like you have one you can drop (which is like every other week for me), you'll want to know where you stand. Because the worst thing you can do is suffer through the shrunken roster for several weeks, passing up who knows what caliber of player in the meantime, only to pack it in on June 1 or whenever, when you're already halfway home.