Mets Grab Themselves a Cheap Shaun Marcum

We begin with a Shaun Marcum timeline. Marcum debuted in the majors in 2005, and he got progressively better through 2008. He missed all of 2009 due to Tommy John surgery. In 2010, as a Blue Jay, he started on opening day. Following 2010, he was traded to the Brewers for top prospect Brett Lawrie straight up. In 2011, he posted a sub-4 ERA over 33 starts. In 2012, he posted a sub-4 ERA over 21 starts, having missed time with elbow discomfort. But he pitched before the discomfort, and then he came back to pitch after it. Marcum’s a not-unreliable 31 years old. As a free agent, you’d think Marcum would be able to get himself a reasonably hefty contract. Instead, he’s signed with the Mets for a year and $4 million. He could earn an additional $2 million, but only if he hits his incentives.

As always, that counts as a hefty contract by our non-baseballing standards. Marcum will out-earn many CEOs! Such luxury! But for the sake of comparison, Mike Pelfrey signed for a year and $4 million, with $1.5 million in possible incentives. Scott Baker signed for a year and $5.5 million, with $1.5 million in possible incentives, and last season he didn’t throw a pitch. Kevin flipping Correia signed for two years and $10 million, and he’s Kevin Correia. On that basis alone, it seems like the Mets got themselves a pretty good deal. On that basis alone, it seems like Marcum should’ve had more of a market.

The fear, presumably, concerns Marcum’s health. He has an injury history, and this is an excerpt from a blog post from when Marcum was on the disabled list last summer:

Marcum has been on the disabled list since June 23, retroactive to June 15, with right elbow tightness. He threw 15 pitches on Friday, but pitching coach Rick Kranitz said Marcum’s arm “wasn’t quite getting loose.” Kranitz indicated that Marcum’s shoulder was the issue, not his elbow.

Marcum went on the DL with an elbow problem, then he started having some issues with his shoulder. Understandably, these were seen as red flags. But Marcum returned to pitch down the stretch. A simple statistical breakdown:

Time Starts K% BB% ERA- FIP- FBv Contact%
pre-DL 13 23% 8% 86 99 86.8 76%
post-DL 8 17% 8% 109 117 86.0 77%

We’re splitting into groups of just 13 starts and eight starts, so, you know, whatever, but there’s evidence Marcum wasn’t the same guy. His ERA went up, his FIP went up, and his strikeouts went down. His velocity went down across the board by just under a full tick. Yet you look at the contact column and it’s not like Marcum became easier to hit after returning from the disabled list. His post-DL contact rate was about the same as his pre-DL contact rate, and it was right in line with his previously established track record. He did, though, see his strike rate drop, from 65% to 61%. In short, Marcum was worse when he came back from his injury.

But the sample is small. And now Marcum has had a full offseason to rest up and get better conditioned. He passed the Mets’ physical, so if there were real concerns about his health, the Mets didn’t find anything sufficiently worrisome to void the contract. Where we’re left, I think, is here: there are legitimate reasons to worry about Shaun Marcum going forward, but there’s enough to like that it still seems like New York got a good deal. The commitment is small — Marcum’s base salary is about that of a one-win player — and the upside is 200 above-average innings. Or a decently valuable midseason trade chip. If Marcum could get moved for a Brett Lawrie a couple years ago, a similarly effective Marcum could still generate real attention.

It’s true that Marcum is a soft thrower. He’s one of the softest throwers, and that doesn’t do wonders for his perception. He’s a righty who throws like a lefty. But here are things Shaun Marcum can do:



He has a great changeup, and he throws a wide enough assortment of pitches that his pedestrian fastball doesn’t often get exploded. Marcum’s no stranger to dingers, because he’s an extreme fly baller, but just last year he posted about the same strikeout rate as Josh Johnson and Anibal Sanchez. Marcum’s a soft thrower who doesn’t necessarily generate a soft thrower’s expected results. With more than 900 innings under his belt, he’s proven by now that his stuff works.

For the Mets, Marcum will fill the void left by the departed R.A. Dickey. The rotation is now some assortment of Marcum, Johan Santana, Jon Niese, Dillon Gee, and Matt Harvey. Marcum has health questions. Santana has health questions. Niese has dealt with some heart complications. Gee has health questions. Harvey’s young enough to have stamina questions. On paper, this doesn’t look like the most durable rotation, but there’s a lot of upside in it, giving the Mets some of that desired dark-horse volatility. They could surprise, and then, of course, Zack Wheeler could get himself ready. The Mets could end up in a decent position this season, is the point.

Marcum could help them get there. In the best-case scenario, Marcum pitches well and the Mets over-achieve. Failing that, Marcum could pitch well and get traded. The worst-case scenario is that Marcum sucks or gets hurt, but then the Mets are out just $4 million. At this point in this offseason, I’m not sure $4 million could be better spent. Even for an unlikely contender, it makes sense to spend this sort of money on this sort of player, as the Cubs have actively demonstrated.

Shaun Marcum wasn’t great in 2012, and he was also hurt for a part of it, too. He was never going to cash in for a mega-deal this winter. But he wasn’t sufficiently different from previous versions of himself to look like a low-upside acquisition, and for $4 million, he makes a great deal of sense, even for a team with a slim chance of seeing the playoffs. Value is value — every team wants to accumulate it, and it looks like the Mets just added to their accumulation.

Update: Marcum’s contract actually has $4 million in possible incentives, not $2 million, according to Ken Rosenthal. That changes the math, but not enough to make this not look good for New York.

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

42 Responses to “Mets Grab Themselves a Cheap Shaun Marcum”

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  1. Tomcat says:

    given the fragility of Johnson, and the question marks of Romero and Morrow, his price tag and his history with the team I am genuinely surprised Toronto didn’t snap him up.

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    • Steve K says:

      Considering the Log Jam of pitchers that they have, they just don’t have any room for him. They even sent JA Happ to AAA, someone that they have a serious interest in having their rotation, because they have 5 front-line starters. Chances are he will come up to replace somebody, either injury or non-performance but they are still pretty deep pitching wise.

      I am surprised that 4 million was the best that he could do. Did he ask too much or were the questions about his elbow that serious?

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    • Michael H says:

      Morrow is no bigger a question mark than Marcum himself.

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  2. Javan says:

    It’s funny that the Brewers had no interest at bringing him back. I know they voiced concerns about his injury history, but at this price and with the state of their rotation. It seems they should have considered it.

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  3. Dave says:

    And they got him for only $1mil less than they’d have had to pay the reigning Cy Young winner!

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  4. Liam says:

    I think you had Gee and Niese confused. It was Gee who had the heart complications, not Niese. Otherwise, great read!

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    • srt says:

      No, it was stated correctly.

      Niese had heart palpitations mid season that he was going to have a surgical procedure for in the off season, but the doctors decided it wasn’t necessary.

      Gee had a clot in an artery in the shoulder, which shut him down mid July. He had surgery to repair it and is ready to go for spring training.

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    • Morgan says:

      Niese has had heart issues, and recently opted not to have a procedure done regarding those issues. Gee had a clot in his shoulder, which is blood and circulatory, but not cardiovascular.

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  5. Johan Santa says:

    Johan Santa strikes again.

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  6. evil kevin towers says:

    Kind of bummed the Padres missed out on him. Marcum would actually have a better injury track record than most of the rest of their staff and ended up coming in even cheaper than Richard and Volquez.

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  7. Nick says:

    Nice to see my Twins signed two of the three comps used in this article to show what a steal Marcum was. I hope people start to realize that Terry Ryan is no longer a top end GM.

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  8. David says:

    The Mets will not be in a good position this summer much past the all star break. Trust me.

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  9. I think the answer is right there: he is unreliable. You say he is not unreliable, but he only has 2 years of full start under his belt and he’s now 32 YO. with injuries costing him significant time in 2 of the last 4 seasons. That Jays and the Brewers, two former teams who could use a not unreliable starter passed on him has to tell you something.

    Just because he was traded for Brett Lawrie does not mean anything for his future value. Victor Zambrano was traded for Scott Kazmir, but that did nothing for his future trade value. All it meant, really, is that the Jays got the better end of the deal.

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    • Yn Fueb says:

      Uh, Marcum has been a ML starter for 5 full seasons, and he was pretty consistent until late last year.

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    • Sylvan says:

      Just because he had Tommy John years ago does not make him inherently “unreliable”. Other than that, he has not been particularly injury prone.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Marcum’s mechanics seem very stressful on his pitching arm, namely due to an inactive front side, “cocking the gun” (pitching arm parallel to ground and retracted at foot strike, elbow pointing to 1B, etc). This is a trade-of that pitchers make (cocking the gun) added velocity for increased injury (associated).

        That he’s already had TJ surgery, and is having elbow AND shoulder problems/strains/etc is a concern.

        Don;t get me wrong, at his age he’ll never “feel 100%” again, but the “can’t get loose” or “can’t get it right”, combined with his mechanics (IMHO) are concerns.*

        * Said in the regard as being greater concerns than the standard concerns that come with all pitchers.

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    • BurleighGrimes says:

      The idea is that compared to other pitchers, Marcum seems like a steal.

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  10. Franco says:

    Surprised the Orioles didn’t jump on him at this price. They’re still looking for starting pitching and have money to spend apparently. He’s the kind of gamble they need to take to compete again as I don’t think they’re a true 90 win team in the AL East.

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    • catzindogz says:

      The Orioles have done absolutely nothing this off-season (sorry, but nate McLouth counts as nothing). They haven’t even been on the periphery on most quality players, like Swisher and LaRoche, scared off by losing the #25 pick in the draft. That’s crazy rediculous considering that Boston and Toronto have absolutely reloaded, and the O’s had barely a positive run differential in 2012.

      No way they repeat their absurd 1-run and extra inning results this season.

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  11. Alex says:

    Simply put: Marcum is unreliable.

    One season of 200 IP, in which he didn’t average 6 IP a start. For his career he is just a tick under 6 IP/start, so you cannot trust him to get you deep into games.

    You can’t trust him to get through a season, either. He has had chronic elbow problems, and now his shoulder last season too. An injury or two with a pitcher is to be expected, but Marcum has only had 2 or 3 seasons where he has been healthy.

    Finally, Marcum is a pitcher who is high risk to decline. I say this because of his age, and his injury history. Marcum lives off his changeup; that separation between his fastball and changeup is crucial. His fastball needs to be at 87-89 to succeed, and as he gets older, or gets injured, he loses/is going to lose velocity, and what will he do then?

    There are too many question marks with this guy. You would think he is an ideal #4 or #5 starter for a contending team, but why didn’t anyone sign him?

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    • The Frankman says:

      “There are too many question marks with this guy. You would think he is an ideal #4 or #5 starter for a contending team, but why didn’t anyone sign him?”

      GMs are busy overpaying worse pitchers?

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      • Alex says:

        No, they cannot trust Marcum.

        If anyone wants to find the FIP stats, please do, becuase I don’t known where to find it.

        But career wise, Marcum’s ERAs over the respective months of July, August, and Sep/Oct:

        4.40, 4.41, and 4.26.

        He wears down as the season goes on. Those numbers are over a combined 456IP, not an insignificant sample size.

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      • Alex says:

        Marcum’s career FIP in the second half is 4.56. Again, not reliable.

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    • Forrest Gumption says:

      Would rather have 140 IP from Marcum and 60 from a AAAA guy and pay $4M than have 200IP from Joe Blanton and pay $15M.

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      • Alex says:

        Blanton is consistent.

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      • Who? says:

        Blanton has been consistently bad.

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      • Alex says:

        When teams look for #5 starters, they want a guy to put and plug. A guy like Blanton is perfect for the Yankees or Angels, who have high scoring offenses. Blanton will give you 7IP/3-4R night in, night out, which is enough most nights for those offenses.

        With Marcum, there is a high possibility that you will have to invest resources into his rotation slot, nevermind that he isn’t very effective in the second half.

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      • BJsWorld says:

        Blanton is over 2 years chief.

        It’s Blanton at $7M vs Marcum at $4M. And if Marcum does anything and stays healthy he ends up costing more than Blanton.

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  12. Benjamin says:

    The Mets should not be grabbing themselves.

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