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Starling Marte is, by far, the best center fielder available in free agency

Speedy, athletic, and with some power, the center fielder is coming off the best season of his career and will seek a nice multi-year contract this winter

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Houston Astros Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Usually, 33-year-old free agents who mostly rely on speed and athleticism to succeed are somewhat risky targets in free agency. However, Starling Marte isn’t your typical player: he is coming off the best season of his career. Yes, for the first time in his 10-year MLB tenure, he eclipsed the 5-WAR threshold, with 5.5.

Marte, a career .289/.346/.451 hitter with a 118 wRC+, hit .310/.383/.458 in 2021, with 12 home runs, 47 stolen bases, and a 134 wRC+. He played only 120 games, which means he could have pushed for 15 homers and 55 steals or so if healthy.

His batting average was somewhat fueled by a .372 BABIP, but the figure isn’t outrageous for someone of his profile: speedy and with a high ground ball percentage. In fact, it’s not that far from his career .344 BABIP.

Defensively, he remains above average. He is best suited in left field, but he can more than hold his own in center, as evidenced by his finish in the 82nd percentile in Outs Above Average this year while playing center field exclusively. DRS didn’t like him so much, though, with a -4 mark.

In any case, he may be able to remain a competent center fielder for at least a couple extra seasons, and in case of decline, he can easily move to left and be an asset there.

There are lots of teams looking for a quality center fielder, and Marte is the best of the options available in free agency. In fact, his market is actually one of the hottest in the offseason, and given the amount of players signing these days, it’s not out of the question that Marte decides his future before the expected lockout date of December 1.

Last week, Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported that the Houston Astros were being “ultra-aggressive” in their pursuit of Marte, and Jon Heyman of MLB Network said that both the San Francisco Giants and the Texas Rangers were also interested.

The New York Yankees are entering the 2022 season with only Aaron Hicks in the center field depth chart, which is not ideal given his injury woes in recent years. The Philadelphia Phillies and the New York Mets could also be players and have money to spend.

Even Miami is looking to re-connect with Marte. He turned down a three-year, $30 million deal from the Marlins during the season, which is the reason they decided to trade him to the Oakland A’s. Marte is so good that he fetched a top young left-hander, Jesus Luzardo, in the transaction.

Teams that need a center fielder know that the drop-off between Marte and the rest of the market at the position is considerable. Chris Taylor is a very good option, and more versatile, too (although not as good as Marte), but after that, the market is bleak: Brett Gardner, Kevin Pillar, Odúbel Herrera, Delino DeShields, Billy Hamilton, Travis Jankowski, Jake Marisnick, Cameron Maybin, Juan Lagares, Ender Inciarte, and Albert Almora Jr., among others.

He has a chance at scoring a four-year deal worth something close to $20 million per season. That would be a best-case scenario for him. That’s MLB Trade Rumors’ estimate, while FanGraphs sees a two-year, $50 million pact: a higher AAV but fewer years.

Andrés Chávez loves the game of baseball and writes about it at Beyond the Box Score, Pinstripe Alley, and other sites. He is on Twitter as @andres_chavez13