Starling Marte Returns, and All is Forgiven?

80 games. A player, especially one of Starling Marte’s caliber, who misses that amount of time could make or break a team’s season. Luckily for the Pittsburgh Pirates, they’re still only 7 games back from the NL Central leading Milwaukee Brewers. Even after losing the offensive power of both Marte and Jung Ho Kang early in the season.

Marte is slated to make his first start back from suspension on Tuesday, July 18th in Pittsburgh. He’ll presumably take his familiar spot in left field with Andrew McCutchen in center, and Gregory Polanco in right. Hello 2015.

Starling Marte, Left Fielder (again.) — Flickr

This, after a shuffling of the outfield into what seemed to be a beneficial move for the team. Until as we know, Marte was suspended 80 games for violating the MLB’s performance-enhancing drug (PED) policy. Whether or not Marte’s suspension had anything to do with it, fellow Dominican Polanco never really looked comfortable in left. While McCutchen scooted back over to center, a position that had been stripped from him. From the beginning, McCutchen was less than thrilled about the move to right field. So…back to square one. Will the team look any different with Marte available?

Obviously Starling Marte’s presence will be felt. The two-time Gold Glove winner, put up a slash line of .311/.362/.456 in 2016. Judging from his Instagram posts, he’s been going about his business the right way. I mean, as “right” as a guy can who’s serving a suspension. He’s been in the batting cage, participating in drills, and has recently moved his rehab to Indianapolis for some Triple-A ball. This may be overly optimistic, but say the Pirates make a run after the all-star break. Say they make the playoffs. Even if McCutchen doesn’t get traded by the deadline, Marte sure won’t be there. The PED policy states that suspensions are served without pay, and the suspended player will not be eligible for that year’s postseason. There’s the rub. Although, if there’s a Major League Baseball team depending on one single player to carry them the entire way through the playoffs, that’s another issue altogether.

Listen, the Pirates have bigger problems to address before that time. How about inconsistent starting pitching? How about an offense that decides to show up in spurts? How about that nasty habit of leaving runners in scoring position? Although Marte’s return should help some of that. Oh, speaking of his return…

Marte will be booed. Probably in Pittsburgh. Definitely in other ballparks, and rightfully so. Baseball is a fragile game. I’m not saying it’s fragile in that it can’t change, and grow. And I’m certainly not saying the players are fragile by any means. It’s fragile in that fans, players, coaches, management, anyone involved, just want what’s best for the game. Baseball at its core is a beautifully pure game. Obviously PED’s tarnish that pureness, but until the Starling Marte suspension it seemed like Major League Baseball had gotten some of its shine back. Imagine if Marte starts going on a late summer tear. Just like any other player who’s been caught using, there’s going to be a cloud hovering over his head. He’ll get heat from a lot of people, and I’m sure Pittsburgh will be a part of that. Don’t forget that it took the city an absurd 15 years to properly welcome back Jaromir Jagr. Jagr won 2 Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins, got traded, then was shunned for a decade and change. Just saying.

I’m fine with 80 games. I’m perfectly fine with postseason ineligibility to go along with that. But it’s 2017. Will players ever stop trying to cheat the system? Will they ever learn? Probably not. The idea that you can get away with cheating is bigger than baseball. It’s bigger than sports. Cheating stems from a far simpler concept; lying. Of course it’s easier to lie than to be honest. But at this level, guys need to be held accountable. If a team with a suspended player doesn’t make the postseason, does the punishment still hold weight? In the Pirates’ case, I guess you could argue that they would be in a better position to make the playoffs had Marte been available in the first half of the season.

But something has to change in the player. Maybe 80 games away from the sport you love so much that you chose it as a career is punishment enough. Perhaps an 8th losing season out of the last 11, resulting in missing the playoffs entirely would be enough to do the trick. On the other hand, maybe it’s the unlikely scenario of seeing his Pirates go on to win the whole damn thing and that nice little asterisk beside his name.

We’ll find out soon enough. All of baseball will be watching when Starling Marte steps onto the field next week. Hopefully with a bit more care for the game that we all love so much.