ST. LOUIS -- Starling Marte seems to think he'll be available at Major League Baseball's trade deadline, at least judging by the number of separate occasions on which he mentioned that -- three -- through the Pirates' three-game set with the Cardinals this week at Busch Stadium.
That means next to nothing, of course. It's not as if Neal Huntington's consulting him on the matter. And for what it's worth, other than one whisper about the Phillies being interested, I haven't heard anything additional on that front, either.
This, on the other hand, does matter: This team values this player. And yeah, everyone involved gets just as exasperated by his lapses as the rest of us, but that's not how they measure him. It just isn't.
I've heard this intermittently from various people at various levels of the organization for years, but I've never heard it expressed more powerfully, more candidly than how Kimera Bartee, the first base coach and outfield instructor, did for me this week.
"You take the good with the bad," Bartee began. "He's an elite athlete. There are some days when he can literally out-athlete the game. And there are other days where ... he gets exposed. But you take that."
Bartee shook his head, looking toward Marte's stall, which was nearby but out of earshot.
"I love him. I've known him since he was 16 years old. I back him, I support him in everything he does. And sure, I've got to coach him up. But I don't ever want to take his athleticism away from him. I want him to go out there and ..."
Bartee paused again, reminding me of this fun Barry Sanders clip I'd shared with him on my iPhone earlier in the day:
Happy 51st birthday to Barry Sanders, who could still make any defender miss in the open field today. Absolute legend. pic.twitter.com/JmD2ewhdT1
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) July 16, 2019
"It's funny," Bartee continued, "but we're talking about Barry and his ability to do things on the field, running free, that nobody else could do. The Lions didn't even need to block for him. Just leave him alone. Let him do his thing. That's what we do with Marte. We respect what he brings. We want him to do what he does."
What he does, to summarize it in a single sequence, is stuff like this:
That was in the seventh inning Tuesday night, in the Pirates' invigorating-at-the-time 3-1 victory over the Cardinals. Marte led off with a single, then Josh Bell's flyout sent Harrison Bader back to the track in center. That's almost always a no-go for a tag, as are most tags from first. But Bartee and Marte had communicated after his hit about at least tagging up on anything in the air.
"We knew Bader was out there. We knew his arm," Bartee told me that night, trying hard to be polite about Bader's Gateway Arch throw up there. "We just wanted to put pressure on him."
OK, so that means he sent Marte, too?
"It wasn't a complete send. I was just getting him in that position. Read the play."
That's evident upon further review. Watch Marte's eyes on the last of those replays. Watch his body language. The initiative to go is his.
"Taking that base is to Starling's credit," Bartee said. "My job's to put him in position. Let the athlete take over from there."
I approached Marte to ask him about that, too. He was in no mood. Earlier in the day, I'd asked about his latest baserunning lapse, and he semi-struggled through that session. But when I clarified I'd only be asking about the tag, his eyes lit up.
"I saw the guy running back so far," Marte told me of Hader. "I thought I got a chance. I come back to the base."
His eyes went wider.
"It's the right decision. I think I can get it. I get it."
He gets it more than most seem to realize.
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