ST. LOUIS – Pittsburgh Pirates All-Star outfielder Starling Marte has been suspended 80 games by Major League Baseball after testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug.
The league said Tuesday that Marte tested positive for the steroid Nandrolone. He will be eligible to return in mid-July.
Marte was an All-Star for the first time in his career in 2016 and moved from left field to center field in the offseason after winning his second Gold Glove. The 28-year-old from the Dominican Republic is hitting .241 with two home runs and seven RBIs this season.
Marte said in a statement that “neglect and lack of knowledge led to this mistake.”
“With much embarrassment and helplessness, I ask for forgiveness for unintentionally disrespecting so many people who have trusted in my work and have supported me so much,” he said. “I promise to learn the lesson that this ordeal has left me.”
Pirates president Frank Coonelly he was “disappointed that Starling put himself, his teammates and the organization in this position.”
“We will continue to fight for the division title with the men who are here,” Coonelly said, “and will look forward to getting Starling back after the All-Star break.”
Marte addressed the team during a closed-door meeting before its game Tuesday night at St. Louis.
“What was said in here was strictly between us, between brothers and teammates,” infielder Josh Harrison said. “It’s something he needs to deal with on his own, but if he ever needs to reach out, just know it’s not exile. People make mistakes.”
Barring postponements, Marte would be eligible to return for the July 18 home game against Milwaukee and would lose 91 days’ pay from his $5 million salary, which comes to $2,486,339. Under a change to baseball’s drug agreement in collective bargaining during the offseason, he doesn’t get paid on off days during the ban. Under the old agreement, he would have lost 80 days’ pay, which would have amounted to $2,185,782.
Another change in the drug agreement means Marte will not be credited for major league service during the suspension. That would have delayed his eligibility for free agency by a year until after the 2019 season, but he agreed in 2014 to a $31 million, six-year contract that includes club options for 2020 and ‘21.
Under the drug agreement, Marte is ineligible for the 2017 postseason if the Pirates were to advance.
It’s a task made considerably harder with Marte out of the mix for the next three months. Pittsburgh already is missing third baseman Jung Ho Kang, who remains in his native South Korea awaiting a work visa after being convicted of driving under the influence in February.
“It’s an unfortunate circumstance,” pitcher Gerrit Cole said. “We have a lot of season left and we have a lot of games that we have to win. Unfortunately the next 80 are going to be without Starling and we’re going to have to figure out how to get through it. That’s what this franchise is built on and what this team is built on. It’s next man up and I would expect nothing less.”
The Pirates recalled Jose Osuna from Triple-A Indianapolis ahead of their game Tuesday night in St. Louis.
Manager Clint Hurdle said Andrew McCutchen, who had expressed displeasure about being moved from center field to right field during the offseason, will now get the bulk of the work in center.
“There’s closure now and it’s going to be a great opportunity for us as an organization, as a group of men, to step up and play,” Hurdle said.
General manager Neal Huntington said the club will open its academy for Marte to work out. He said the club could send Marte on a rehab assignment when there are 15 days left in his suspension, but until that, Marte will be limited to extended spring training work.
Cardinals backup catcher Eric Fryer, a former teammate of Marte’s, was surprised by his suspension.
“Anytime he’s on the bases he’s a threat,” Fryer said. I think everyone knows he makes their offense better. He’s a really exciting player to watch and explosive.”
Marte is the second player to be suspended this season for running afoul of the league’s drug policy. Philadelphia pitcher Elniery Garcia, who was on the Phillies’ 40-man roster but assigned to Double-A Reading, was suspended last week.