For the past few years, rival scouts have heaped praise on the Diamondbacks’ farm system, complimenting the organization for its position-player depth and for the number of pitchers who have emerged with major league-caliber stuff.
The only knock has been one of pure upside: Who among the position players, evaluators have wondered, is the superstar around whom the Diamondbacks can build?
Whether or not that player exists in their system, the Diamondbacks believe they already have such a player on their major league roster — and they are signaling they plan to build around him for the next half-decade or so.
Sources say the Diamondbacks and second baseman Ketel Marte are in agreement on a five-year, $76 million extension, a deal that will begin next season and runs through 2027. The contract includes a team option for 2028. The deal is pending a physical exam scheduled for Monday.
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For Diamondbacks general manager Mike Hazen, this new deal represents the third bet he has made on the versatile, switch-hitter’s future.
The first occurred in November 2016 in Hazen’s first major move as the team’s GM, when he acquired Marte in a deal with the Seattle Mariners. That bet was relatively small; Marte was the second piece in the deal that also brought right-hander Taijuan Walker to Arizona.
Next came the contract extension Hazen gave Marte in March 2018. Marte was largely unproven at the time, but the Diamondbacks plunged ahead nevertheless, locking him in on a five-year, $24 million deal that included club options for 2023 ($10 million) and 2024 ($12 million). Those options will be replaced with guaranteed years.
With that first extension, Diamondbacks moved a year early; they figured at the time that if he performed the way they hoped he would that he might price himself out of their plans.
This deal, however, is different. Marte put up enormous numbers in 2019, finishing fourth in National League MVP voting. He fell off in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, but he more or less produced at his previous levels last year.
The risk now is less about whether Marte is capable of doing it, but whether he can do it again and again over the long haul.
Marte does come with injury risks. He hurt his back in 2019. He suffered a strain in both his left and right hamstring last year. He has had only one fully healthy and productive season in his career.
His defense could be another risk. Four years ago, Marte was viewed by many as being capable of playing an above-average shortstop. More recently, his range has appeared diminished wherever he has played, including second base, where defensive metrics have not been generous of his work the past two seasons.
But much can be forgiven defensively when a player can hit like Marte. Over the past three seasons, Marte ranks 10th in the majors in OPS-plus among hitters with at least 1,000 plate appearances, according to Baseball-Reference. He is in the same range as Mookie Betts, Ronald Acuña Jr. And Alex Bregman.
Since 2019, Hazen has not shied away from superlatives when describing Marte. In the spring of 2020, he called Marte a “superstar,” a word he has used repeatedly in the ensuing years.
Despite evaluators’ hesitance, the Diamondbacks might have other players in their system capable of developing into superstars. Daulton Varsho had an electric second half last year. Prospects Corbin Carroll and Jordan Lawlar are talented but unproven.
Marte is different. He has done it before in the majors. The Diamondbacks are betting on him doing it again — and again and again.
After 2019, his first extension was considered to be among the most team-friendly deals in the majors. If he can perform like that again, his new deal might look similar.