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Will the real Ketel Marte please stand up?

UPDATED: Mon., July 1, 2019, 8:49 p.m.

Former Seattle Mariner Ketel Marte is the starting second baseman for the National League All-Star team after hitting 20 home runs so far this season. The most homers he hit as a Mariner was three. (Matt Slocum / Associated Press)
Former Seattle Mariner Ketel Marte is the starting second baseman for the National League All-Star team after hitting 20 home runs so far this season. The most homers he hit as a Mariner was three. (Matt Slocum / Associated Press)
By Matt Calkins Seattle Times

He was essentially considered the “B” side of the deal. Not quite a throw-in, but definitely part of the undercard. A solid starting shortstop? No doubt. A 23-year-old rife with potential? Sure. But an offensive juggernaut bombing 482-foot home runs while sliding into the National League’s starting lineup for the All-Star Game?

Get the hell outta here.

In November of 2016, Ketel Marte was dealt to Arizona after slashing a puny .259/.287/.323 in his second season with the Mariners. He was packaged with starting pitcher Taijuan Walker in a transaction that brought shortstop Jean Segura and outfielder Mitch Haniger to Seattle.

For a minute, it looked as if Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto fleeced the Diamondbacks. Segura and Haniger each made the All-Star Game last year, while Walker went down with a UCL injury and Marte played average to above-average baseball. But now, as Marte has morphed into one of the more fearsome hitters in MLB, that deal is moving ever closer to a wash.

In 582 minor league games, Marte hit 17 home runs. In 172 games with the Mariners, he hit three – which he followed with a five-dinger season in his first year in Arizona. Last year, he hit 14 homers to go along with a league-leading 12 triples. But this season? Twenty home runs through 80 games.

Marte is like Super Mario after finally finding a red mushroom. It’s as if he spent the early part of his career with the donut still on his bat.

As ESPN’s David Schoenfield pointed out, Marte began the season having homered every 63.6 at-bats but through June 18, was doing so every 14.5. That’s better than the career rates of Manny Ramirez, Mickey Mantle and Ken Griffey Jr.

It’s quite possible that this is an 80-game anomaly that will soon regress to the mean. That happened in 2012 in San Diego when Chase Headley had 23 home runs over the last 75 games of the year, which is nine more bombs than he’s had in any full season before or since. Or maybe Marte – whose 3.8 wins above replacement (WAR) is fifth in MLB, according to FanGraphs – simply discovered something that nobody else knew he possessed.

So how does Dipoto feel about all of this? Does Marte’s out-of-nowhere ascent remind him of Chris Taylor, the Dodgers standout whom Jerry admits he “whiffed” on after trading him away for peanuts?

Not quite. At least not publicly.

“I’m very happy for Ketel’s success. It’s a trade that’s worked out well for both sides, which is a good thing,” Dipoto said via text. “The power surge is something of a surprise, but otherwise not at all surprised he’s matured into a good ML player, he’s always had the ability.”

It is unclear who “won” that trade, and may not be for years. Haniger may be struggling this season, but he had a 3.1 WAR his first year in Seattle and was at 6.1 last year, which was tops on the Mariners. Segura is gone after his 4.3 WAR season last year, but he was the key piece in the Dipoto getting the Phillies to send them 24-year-old shortstop J.P. Crawford, who has excelled in his 31 games with the M’s.

Walker, meanwhile, hasn’t played since undergoing Tommy John surgery after his third start in 2018 but had the best season of his career the year before. In other words, it’s impossible to know how this will all turn out.

But if Marte’s first half is any indication, the possibilities are infinite. Two years ago, he was just a guy. Two days ago, he was named the starting second baseman for the National League All-Star team. Two years from now … God only knows.

I suppose the lesson here is that it’s almost always too early judge a trade. No matter how meticulous the scouting, no matter how intricate the projection models – MLB front offices are still guessing like the rest of us.

Ketel Marte proved that much. The “B” side of a trade is having an A+ season.

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