Melvin’s Gamble

by Nathan Petrashek

Shaun Marcum makes his sixth start of the season this afternoon against the Giants.  Though he has only one win, Marcum has been, for the second season, among the Brewers’ most consistent starters.  Marcum hasn’t given up more than three runs in any outing, and four of his five starts have been quality.  On the season, he’s sporting a nifty 3.19 ERA (best among team starters) over 31 innings.  Marcum is walking slightly more batters than you’d expect, but he’s also striking out more.  Small Sample Size rules certainly apply, but it doesn’t appear Marcum is experiencing a postseason hangover.

This is pretty much what I expected when I wrote this piece in late March.  My position then, as it is now, is that Marcum can help the Brewers win and deserves a contract extension.  At the time, Marcum made his desire to remain a Brewer beyond his final arbitration year well-known.  He was disappointed that Doug Melvin hadn’t approached him, and since then it has become clear that Melvin has no desire to negotiate deals with both Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum. While I understand the urgency to sign Greinke, this was the wrong approach to take.  In essence, Melvin gambled.  He gambled that Grienke would be amenable to a long-term agreement and that the team could come up with an adequate financial package.  He gambled that Marcum’s injury history-which is pretty light, save for a past Tommy John surgery that potential extension candidate John Axford has also had-and mechanics represent a real injury risk.  He gambled that Marcum would not take personally the lack of effort put forth by the front office to retain him.

So far, it looks like Melvin’s gamble has failed on every one of those fronts.  Todd Rosiak understated the matter when he said “the chances of the Brewers signing Zack Greinke to a long-term deal aren’t very high.”  After the Matt Cain contract fiasco, there is virtually no chance the team signs Greinke, who has put the brakes on further negotiations.  So far, Marcum hasn’t shown any side effects from the shoulder inflammation that sidelined him during spring training.  And though that says nothing about future injuries, the post-Tommy John Marcum has proven to be pretty durable, logging nearly 200 innings in each of the two years since his return.  Finally, there’s a good chance any discount that could have come from Marcum’s playoff failures or shoulder fatigue has evaporated.  After all, let’s be clear: the message from Marcum’s boss in spring training was that the team was better off letting him walk.  Would that make you more or less inclined to sign a team-friendly deal?

While I think the team can still find value in a Marcum deal, his quality start to the season is both a boon and a curse.  The team needs its quality pitching more than ever, but the price tag for a future extension keeps rising.  And if Marcum does for the whole season what he has done in the first month-plus, the Brewers will have missed out on a steal.

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