On Wednesday, Pirates fans woke up to a less than ideal surprise — elite centerfielder Starling Marte was suspended for 80 games, after testing positive for Nandrolone, a substance banned by Major League Baseball.
Marte was viewed as one of the most valuable players in baseball, after signing a team-friendly deal through 2021. In 2016, Fangraphs rated him as the player with the 29th highest trade value in all of baseball. After this incident, teams will be wary to trade for him, and if the Pirates decide to bring him back, they will do so for significantly less pay.
The Pirates are a team that can’t necessarily afford to splurge in free agency or trade for a high-cost player to help make up for Marte’s production. The Pirates have a strong farm system and other good, young talent, but this wipes out any chance the Pirates had of making the playoffs. As of April 20, the Pirates are in a tie for fifth in the NL Central with a record of 6-9.
This is not the first blow to a small-market Pirates team. During the offseason, they lost power-hitting shortstop Jung-Ho Kang after he was arrested in South Korea for his third DUI in the last 10 years. He is currently dealing with the South Korean legal system and trying to get past his visa issues to get back to the United States, although it is likely he will not play this season.
The Pirates are expected to replace Marte by shifting aging star Andrew McCutchen back to centerfield, while using a combination of role players highlighted by Josh Harrison to play in left during the suspension. Top prospect Austin Meadows is struggling in AAA, and the front office does not feel that he is ready to be called up. Another option is veteran outfielder Angel Pagan, who is currently a free agent. Although signing Pagan is arguably the most logical option, the Pirates seem unlikely to look outside the organization for outfield help.
The Pirates and their fans are not the only parties that are affected somewhat directly by the Marte scandal. Looking back into Marte’s story, there are many losers. Take Ramon Genao, the agent/trainer hybrid — known as a buscone — in the Dominican Republic who has used Starling Marte as a poster child for his business. Genao met Marte when Marte was 18 years old, which usually is too old for a buscone to take in a player. Despite this, Marte became Genao’s success story. Ramon Genao drives around the Dominican Republic in a van with a mural of Marte in uniform on its side. Now players who come from his academy may face additional scrutiny, in light of Marte’s steroid use. His name may be forever tainted by Marte’s mistake.
Additionally, Genao’s players are hurt by this. Boys 8 to 16 years old train with Genao, often using Starling Marte as an inspiration for who they aspire to be. Now that their role model has been caught cheating, how will this shape their futures?
Marte released an “apology” in which he stated that he took the Nandrolone by accident, and that he was negligent and did not realize the substance was banned. This incident taints his future free agent contracts, endorsements and how fans view him. He is still under a team-friendly contract, however he may have missed an opportunity to make even more money.
Nevertheless, Marte will make almost $20 million over the next three years. This is a massive payout, regardless of his future salary potential. He loses out on only a little under $2 million with the suspension this season. In my opinion, Major League Baseball needs even stiffer penalties, especially for a player like Marte, even if it did happen to be negligence.