Starling Marte, an All-Star outfielder emerging as one of the game’s top all-around talents, was suspended 80 games by Major League Baseball after testing positive for nandrolone, a devastating blow for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Marte, 28, won a Gold Glove in 2016 and compelled the Pirates to move franchise player Andrew McCutchen from center to right field in the off-season. He batted .311 with a .362 on-base percentage, and stole 47 bases last season.
Nandrolone is classified as an anabolic steroid, perhaps better known as Deca-Durabolin during the height of doping in Olympic and other athletic circles. It emerged most recently during Barry Bonds’ 2011 perjury trial related to the BALCO scandal, when slugger Jason Giambi testified that he tested positive for the drug in a screening administered by BALCO before the lab created its own regimen of drugs for him.
In a statement released by the Major League Baseball Players’ Association, Marte expressed both culpability and ignorance in testing positive. He’s the first player on a major league roster to get suspended under MLB’s Joint Drug Agreement.
“I have been informed that I have tested positive in one of the tests that are regularly done in my job,” Marte said in the statement. “In this very difficult moment I apologize to my family, the Pittsburgh Pirates, my teammates, my fans, and baseball in general. Neglect and lack of knowledge have led me to this mistake with the high price to pay of being away from the field that I enjoy and love so much. With much embarrassment and helplessness, I ask for forgiveness for unintentionally disrespecting so many people who have trusted in my work and have supported me so much. I promise to learn the lesson that this ordeal has left me. God bless you.”
Marte signed a six-year, $31 million extension with the Pirates in March 2014, a deal that could bind him to the Pirates through 2021; the club holds options of $11.5 million and $12.5 million in 2020 and ’21.
He was slated to make $5 million this season; the suspension will cost him around $2.2 million in salary.
Meanwhile, the Pirates will be faced with filling his spot in the middle of their lineup and outfield – the latter task perhaps an awkward one.
After a winter of external trade talks and internal discussions, the Pirates moved McCutchen, 31, from center field to right, thanks to fielding metrics that determined Marte would be the superior center fielder at this stage of their careers.
Now, the club must determine if it would prefer moving McCutchen back to center field, or eventually promote top prospect Austin Meadows. The ninth overall pick in the 2013 draft, Meadows, 21, is the Pirates’ top prospect and a consensus top 10 prospect in all of baseball. He’s off to a 6 for 37 start (.162) at Class AAA Indianapolis.
For now, the Pirates recalled 24-year-old outfielder Jose Osuna from Indianapolis. Osuna played well this spring, but is not considered a top prospect. He was batting .250 with a .341 on-base percentage at Indianapolis.
Marte is the most significant major leaguer to get suspended for PED use since Miami Marlins All-Star infielder Dee Gordon received an 80-game ban on April 29, 2016.