As Patrick Brewer put it in his Padres offseason to do list , the Padres need to find a damn shortstop. Finding one that can hit leadoff and play defense as well would be just swell, but wouldn’t you know it, shortstops that can contribute offensively and defensively aren’t exactly easy to come by. Shocking, huh?
So where do the Padres look? Big names are fun to speculate about and increase fan and media interest (see last offseason with Justin Upton and Craig Kimbrel), but don’t necessarily fit team needs or actually lead to more wins (ahem….. see Justin Upton and Craig Kimbrel). Free agents are usually old, always expensive, and often come with glaring weaknesses, James Shields being a prime example of that. Even though his price tag dropped right before the Padres signed him for what looked like a bargain, Shields definitely regressed in 2015 and his best days are likely behind him. Prospects are shiny, but the Padres need help now and actually have a couple of middle infielder prospects that are showing promise. Tyler Jay at Baseball America recently wrote Luis Urias and Ruddy Giron here.
If I were putting together a wish list of shortstops to target, I would look for a young player on a cheap contract that is currently on a team with a surplus of shortstops. Said young shortstop would need to have a track record showing strong contact hitting skills, and the ability to at least play average defense. Getting a defensive wunderkid like Andrelton Simmons just ain’t gonna happen.
So who fits that criteria? I present to you, Ketel Marte.
Young? Check. Hits for contact? Check.
Plays at least ok defense? Check again.
So what’s his story?
Ketel Marte is 21 years old and cracked into the majors in 2015 thanks to a .314 batting average in AAA and a Robinson Cano injury. Moving to the majors didn’t cool down his bat much and he posted a .283 average in 247 plate appearances. Encouragingly, he actually raised his walk rate after making it to the show. I say encouragingly because even though his credentials as a very good contact hitter are impressive, his strike zone judgment lags behind his bat, and as a result he does not draw many walks. Those looking for a red flag in terms of his long-term viability as a big league hitter will question whether his weak batter’s eye will hinder his ability to make adjustments as big league pitchers inevitably try to make him swing at pitches out of the zone. Another potential red flag is centered around his defending at shortstop. His arm strength is just average and scouts have questioned whether or not he can stay at shortstop long-term or if he will be better suited at second base. Perhaps these are reasons why the Mariners would be willing to move a guy that is so young and did so well as a rookie.
There is recent precedent for a team trading away a young contact oriented middle infielder, as the Atlanta Braves traded top prospect Jose Peraza to the Dodgers. The Braves were presumably concerned over Peraza’s ability to get on base consistently, as he has a track record of high batting averages and low walk rates. This doesn’t mean the Mariners will have similar concerns over Marte, or that Peraza and Marte are exactly the same, but it does show that teams value a hitter’s ability to draw walks and have good plate discipline.
Those are some reasons why the Mariners might be willing to part with Marte, so why should the Padres want him? He may not draw walks, but he also doesn’t strike out a lot, and he can definitely hit. After Marte posted a .283 average over 57 games with the Mariners, Manager Lloyd McClendon told The Bellingham Herald, “the emergence of Marte was kind of exciting. He did a lot of good things in a short period of time. I think he has a bright future.”
Perhaps that future will actually be at shortstop instead of second base.
Ultimately Ketel Marte might be exactly the player the Mariners want to keep, and I have no idea if the Padres want, or can, trade for him. However, the fact that the Mariners have a pretty good middle infield without Marte might mean they’ll be willing to trade him. Even though he hasn’t proven himself over the course of a full season at the major league level, and he certainly has weaknesses, his strengths are exactly what the Padres need. If Marte isn’t the answer for the Padres shortstop problems, he’s a pretty good prototype.