By John Perrotto
Pirates fans have been clamoring for Starling Marte for weeks. They will get him tonight when the Pirates open a four-game series against the Astros in Houston that also starts a 10-game road trip.
The Pirates recalled the 24-year-old outfielder from Class AAA Indianapolis on Wednesday night and he is expected to make his major-league debut tonight.
However, the callup of Marte does not signal that the Pirates have given up on acquiring an outfielder in a trade before next Tuesday’s deadline for making deals without securing waivers on players.
In fact, there is some thought that the Pirates have called up Marte in order to showcase him in a potential trade for either Cleveland’s Shin Soo Choo or Philadelphia’s Hunter Pence.
Pirates general manager Neal Huntington has made it clear that he would prefer to trade for players who remain under club control beyond this season. That is why he packaged three prospects in a trade Tuesday for Houston left-hander Wandy Rodriguez, who is under contract through next season and has a player option for 2014.
Choo and Pence both have one more year of arbitration eligibility before the 29-year-olds can become free agents after next season. Both the Indians and Phillies are said to have interest in Marte.
The Pirates have a strong interest in Choo but Cleveland is still debating whether it is a buyer or seller. The Indians are four games behind co-leaders Chicago and Detroit in the American League Central and 4 1/2 games in back of Los Angeles for the second AL wild card.
Choo would fill the Pirates’ need for a leadoff hitter and also add power. He is hitting .294 with 12 home runs, 39 RBIs and 10 stolen bases in 92 games and also has a .380 on-base percentage and a.492 slugging percentage.
Pence has a .267 batting average with 17 homers and 59 RBIs in 98 games with a .334 OBP and a .447 slugging percentage.
Meanwhile, Marte will get his shot at the big leagues after hitting .286 with 20 doubles, 13 triples, 12 home runs, 61 RBIs and 21 stolen bases in 98 games at Indianapolis. He had a .348 OBP and a .500 slugging percentage.
Baseball America ranked Marte as the 36th-best prospect in the game earlier this month and third in the Pirates’ organization behind Class AA Altoona right-hander Gerrit Cole and high Class A Bradenton righty Jameson Taillon.
Some of the more optimistic scouting reports rank Marte on a par with Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen. However, scouts who have watched Marte at Indianapolis aren’t quite convinced.
“Marte’s a good player but I don’t think he’s going to be a superstar in the major leagues,” said a scout from an American League organization. “He’s got talent and he could wind up being above average but he’s also 24. McCutchen was already an established big-leaguer and an All-Star when he was 24.”