Once upon a time (well, OK, after the 2005 season), the Atlanta Braves faced a difficult decision. The face of their franchise, Chipper Jones, was entering the final year of his contract. He’d played just 109 games in 2005 and at the age of 33 and despite putting up great numbers in those games, it seemed like the clock was ticking on his career. Meanwhile, top prospect Andy Marte was banging down the door. At the age of 21, he launched 20 homers in Triple-A with a .275/.372/.506 line in Richmond. It was his first go-round at the level and he seemed destined for stardom.
The Braves chose to re-sign Jones to a 3-year/$37 million deal with a vesting option for a fourth year. With the die cast, they traded Marte to Boston straight up for the already past-his-prime Edgar Renteria and cash in December. Before January was over. Marte was dealt again to Cleveland with Guillermo Mota and Kelly Shoppach for Josh Bard, Coco Crisp, and David Riske. When the 2006 season started, Marte was 22 years old with a great minor league profile, 66 disappointing big league plate appearances, and two trades in 50 days that involved absolutely no one of consequence. Strange for a guy that was named Baseball America’s 14th best prospect that season.
Five years later, Marte is roster filler in camp with the Pittsburgh Pirates; a team coming off of a 105-loss season and was last relevant when he was nine. In bits and pieces of action with the Indians over the last five years, he hit just .224/.281/.369. Remember those 20 homers he hit as a 21-year old in Triple-A in 2005? That’s how many he hit in 858 plate appearances with the Indians. He’s a Chad Hermansen for Cleveland fans and a cautionary tale for Pirate fans that lean on young talent right now.
He’s also been killing the ball this spring. In 19 plate appearances, he’s got eight hits, five doubles, and four walks for a .421/.562/.684 line. He’s far beyond the point in his career where anyone should or would think of him as an everyday player (even the Pirates have no room for him with Overbay and Alvarez in the lineup on a daily basis), but at 27 it might be possible that there’s room for him on the fringe of a big league roster. The Pirates, with lefties at both first base and third base, wouldn’t be a terrible fit. I’ve said before and I’ll say again that in general the best thing a big league manager can do for his club is to know how to play to the strengths of the players he’s given, and since the Pirates have Marte, Steve Pearce, Garrett Atkins, and Josh Fields all in camp.
I can declare my own biases here; I always like seeing ex-prospects make good. Who doesn’t? Garrett Jones was a lot of fun in 2009. Neil Walker was awesome to watch last year. The Pirates need to find talent anywhere, and it’s always exciting when they find it somewhere that others aren’t looking. Not that Marte will be that sort of player (he likely won’t), just that he’s the sort of fringe player I like to root for.
And that’s why it kind of drives me nuts that I think Garrett Atkins will likely end up with that bench spot ahead of Marte. Atkins is 30 and coming off of two awful offensive seasons and he can’t play third base at all and he’d really only make the team as a concession to Clint Hurdle (Who’s ready for a digression? I’ve read and heard lots of stuff about Hurdle since his hiring, much of which pegs him as an organizational guy behind his rah-rah exterior. The composition of the coaching staff, which is made up mostly of people from within the Pirates’ organization and no one from his staff in Colorado, seems to confirm that. But still, Hurdle’s been a great hire for the Pirates if only because the people that tend to think that the Pirates can do nothing right love Hurdle. In that light, Hurdle taking the Pirates’ job is a favor to Huntington and his staff. I mean, someone else would’ve hired him, and he still decided to come to Pittsburgh, where he both seems to be a good fit for a team full of young players and placates an angry part of the fan base. So if all he wants is a likely inconsequential thing like Garrett Atkins on the roster instead of Andy Marte, why shouldn’t the Pirates give it to him?). He’s not hitting well at all this spring with a fairly extended chance (.154/.214/.346 with 28 plate appearances) and there just doesn’t seem to be any reason to give him a roster spot.
And that’s where Andy Marte is now. In camp with the Pirates, and so far removed from the promise of his early career that a scorching hot spring training may not get him a roster spot over a broken down infielder that will probably be cut before the All-Star break. 2005 sure was a long time ago. Heck, back then we were all figured the Pirates would stumble into a winning record by 2008.