UPDATE: The Pirates have issued a statement with a quote from Clint Hurdle confirming that Marte will be in center next year, with Polanco in left field and McCutchen in right.
A tweet from MLB Dominicana, retweeted by Starling Marte himself, reports that Marte says he will play center field next season. The Google translation of the tweet (somewhat amusingly) reads, “OF @Starlingmart confirms that it will play in the central prairie for the next season by the Pittsburgh Pirates.”
That would mean, of course, that Andrew McCutchen is moving to a corner, a move that has been in the works for awhile. McCutchen’s defensive numbers throughout his career have been inconsistent, and it’s hard to separate an individual player’s defensive performance from that of his team as a whole when that team has messed around quite a bit with positioning over the past several seasons. But most of the recent data suggests McCutchen is well below average in center — UZR marked him as being worth -4.5 runs in 2015 and -18.7 runs in 2016, mostly due to his limited range, and DRS liked him even less. Then there’s been the clear decline in McCutchen’s speed in 2016, which would seem to call into question his ability to play center field. Marte, meanwhile, has rated as above average to well above average in left field throughout his career.
Of course, one reason Marte’s defensive performances have been so crucial is that left field is itself very difficult to play in PNC Park. A report earlier this offseason suggested the Pirates were considering moving Gregory Polanco to left and McCutchen to right, despite McCutchen’s below-average arm. (There appears to be some statistical support for that alignment.) The tweet about Marte provides no indication of where Polanco and McCutchen will play, however.