Pittsburgh Pirates star CF Starling Marte has been suspended 80 games by the MLB for testing positive for the PED Nandrolone, the MLB announced Tuesday afternoon.
This is not good news in the slightest for the Pirates. After missing the playoffs last season for the first time since 2012, Pittsburgh is trying to get back on track this season, and doing that without one of their best players for half the year will not be easy.
The 28-year-old Marte will not be allowed to return until after the All-Star break and will be ineligible for the playoffs if the Pirates qualify. There’s no need to panic for the Bucs, however, for they have the right man to fill the void.
Marte’s breakout 2016 season, in which he batted .311, coincided with a comparatively lackluster year from franchise player Andrew McCutchen, who batted just .256. Marte’s absence is a huge blow to the Pirates, but it might just be the opportunity that ‘Cutch needs to reinvent himself.
Don’t get me wrong, while 2016 wasn’t a good year for McCutchen’s standards, he still didn’t play all that poorly. His batting average was significantly lower than previous seasons, but he still hit 24 homers and drove in 79 runs, both respectable numbers. But, when you consider that he normal bats somewhere in the 310s, his downgrade season was enough for Clint Hurdle to make Marte the club’s starting center fielder, bumping McCutchen to right for the first 13 games of the season. With Marte gone, Hurdle placed his stalwart back where he belongs, and it paid off immediately.
Against St. Louis on Tuesday night, McCutchen was a new man, going 2-4 to extend his hitting streak to nine games and making an impressive full-sprint catch on the warning track to rob Mike Leake of extra bases. After the grab McCutchen pounded his chest and pointed to the ground, saying “this is mine”. That old ‘Cutch swagger is exactly what the Pirates are going to need to become a contender in the NL Central again.
There’s no reason to believe that McCutchen won’t return to All-Star form this season. Returning him to his natural position in center instead of moving someone else was a smart move on Hurdle’s behalf and it should continue to pay dividends. McCutchen is my prediction for NL Comeback Player of the Year this year, and now that he’s back in center field, he might do just that.