By Michael Klopman
If the Pittsburgh Pirates were going to return to contention in 2017, they were going to need Starling Marte to continue playing like an All-Star. Unfortunately, the Pirates will be without him for a while: MLB announced on Tuesday that the center fielder has been suspended for 80 games after testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug.
Pirates OF Starling Marte suspended 80 games without pay after testing positive for Nandrolone, a performance-enhancing substance.- MLB (@MLB) April 18, 2017
"The Pittsburgh Pirates fully support MLB's Joint Drug Agreement, including the very tough penalties for violations of its prohibitions. We are disappointed that Starling put himself, his teammates and the organization in this position," Pirates president Frank Coonelly said in a statement. "We will continue to fight for the division title with the men who are here and will look forward to getting Starling back after the All-Star break."
Marte also released a statement, saying "neglect and lack of knowledge have led me to this mistake with the high price of being away from the field that I enjoy and love so much."
So what do the Pirates do now?
Marte didn't get off to a great start in 2017, but he was coming off a season in which he posted a slash line of .311/.362/.456 and a weighted runs created-plus of 121. Over the past three seasons, Marte has an OPS+ of 118 and a slash line of .296/.351/.450. On top of that, the Pirates shuffled their outfielders heading into this season, putting former National League Most Valuable Player Andrew McCutchen in right field for the first time so Marte, a two-time Gold Glove winner, could take over center field.
But the Pirates can move forward in a few ways. They can re-shuffle their outfielders, move McCutchen back to center (which they did on Tuesday) and plug Adam Frazier in right. The 25-year-old Frazier has been solid through 43 plate appearances this year, recording a 138 wRC+. Pittsburgh could also call up Austin Meadows, the seventh-ranked prospect in MLB Pipeline's Top 100 prospect rankings. They could even turn to Josh Harrison, who has spent some time in the corner outfield positions over his career.
Those might be options down the line, but the Buccos wasted no time in calling up another prospect, Jose Osuna, who was absolutely dominant throughout Spring Training: The 24-year-old hit five homers to go along with a slash line of .429/.500/.500 over 42 at-bats.
José Osuna has been recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis and will be available for tonight's game in St. Louis.- Pirates (@Pirates) April 18, 2017
No surprise Jose Osuna gets the call. If #Pirates needed someone out of ST, it would have been him over Meadows. Didn't change in 2 weeks.- Tim Williams (@timwilliamsP2) April 18, 2017
All's not lost, Pirates fans. This was an unfortunate twist in the early part of the season, but reinforcements are coming.
Michael Klopman is an associate producer for Sports on Earth.