The Marcum Problem
by Nathan Petrashek
It might seem like an odd time to revisit Shaun Marcum’s contract situation; after all, he has been sidelined all spring by shoulder inflammation. Who would want a piece of that, especially after his epic blowup at the end of last year? If you need a refresher, Marcum went 2-2 in September with a 5.17 ERA in 5 starts. But it was his poor pitching in the postseason that really torpedoed an otherwise spectacular year for the 30-year-old righty: in just 9.2 innings, Marcum allowed 16 earned runs on 17 hits with 5 walks. He didn’t win a single postseason game for the Crew, and in fact put the team in some pretty substantial holes. That was most apparent in Game 6 of the NLCS, where the scoreboard read 0-4 after Marcum’s sole inning of work.
It seems silly, perhaps, to want to see him signed to an extension after all that. But that’s exactly why I see value.
Now, there’s a big caveat. We know Marcum would like to continue to pitch for the Brewers, and he has made clear he’s open to an extension. He has not, however, disclosed his desired length of the contract or salary (they usually don’t). However, because Marcum was arbitration-eligible for the final time this year, we do have some idea of how Marcum values himself. In arbitration, Marcum sought $8.7MM, slightly less than the Brewers paid for their #4 starter last year, Randy Wolf ($9.5MM). If his salary demands for an extension are similar, the Brewers might do well to approach him and see if anything can be worked out.
The shoulder issues, which Marcum has suffered from in both preaseasons as a Brewer, seems to be resolving. Marcum pitched in a AAA match Wednesday, throwing 26 pain-free pitches. He’s expected to make his first Cactus league start tomorrow, and is scheduled to start the season as the Brewers’ #4.
He was also one of the team’s most consistent starters last year. Much ado was made about his home/road split; in 2011, Marcum fared much better away from Miller Park than he did at home. But I don’t read too much into this; in 2010, it was the exact opposite. Marcum’s September swoon is certainly more alarming, but it’s worth noting that in 2010, his first year back from Tommy John surgery, Marcum threw 195 innings and yet still ended September 2-1 with a 3.76 ERA. In fact, 2011 was the first time Marcum struggled badly in September since 2007. And I don’t regard 2007 as a warning sign, either, because Marcum threw twice as many innings that year than he did in 2006. He ended 2006 just fine, going 1-1 with a 4.30 ERA in five starts, three against the dominant AL East powerhouses, the Yankees and the Red Sox. In short, I don’t think Marcum is any more likely to replicate his fluky September than, say, David Freese is to replicate his playoff tear.
Right now, I’d be comfortable giving Marcum something like 3/$26MM. I don’t think that’s unreasonable for the floor, and ceiling, that Marcum offers. That kind of deal wouldn’t financially handicap the club; in fact, the first year almost pays for itself, as the Brewers would not feel pressured to pick up Randy Wolf’s $10MM option. The team could also trade Chris Narveson in his first arbitration year if two of their young rotation arms are major-league ready. I’m not wed to an extension by any means, but it seems to make sense to me for a proven pitching commodity like Marcum.