It’s no secret that the Toronto Blue Jays are going to go after starting pitching in the off-season. “Aggressively,” too, if president Paul Beeston is to be believed. That said, it’s not exactly an ocean-deep pool of starting pitching talent out there in the 2013 free agent pool, with the big name – Zach Greinke – probably being a little too rich for the team’s blood (even if they are apparently ready to spend some money), and everyone else being on a different tier.
I’m assuming aggressiveness doesn’t mean signing Randy Wolf to a one-year deal, so if the Blue Jays do decide to go the FA route, the team is going to be looking to take a little bit of risk here to find that player who could perhaps provide more value than expected. An injury risk, like Brandon McCarthy, perhaps; but how about someone familiar to the organization? Someone who was once worth enough value to be moved for who is now one of the young cornerstones of the Blue Jays?
Shaun Marcum, come on down.
It seems inevitable that the 31-year-old right-hander will be linked to the Blue Jays at some point this off season in a more concrete level, given that Marcum was the team’s #1 pitcher just a couple of seasons ago, and the team was only willing to trade him (reluctantly) when Brett Lawrie became available from the Milwaukee Brewers.
Still, that hasn’t stopped Blue Jays fans from bringing his name up now, wondering whether the oft-injured righty might just be the thing that the team needs in 2013. At least one MLB.com writer thinks it would be a good fit:
@alleycat17 He would, but he’s a big-time injury risk. So it depends on how many years he wants.
— Gregor Chisholm (@gregorMLB) August 26, 2012
And why not? Though Marcum has had more than his share of injuries in his career – he’s pitched just 87.1 innings this season due to an ailing right elbow – the innings that he does provide are quality ones. His numbers aren’t spectacular (career 3.71/1.22 ERA/WHIP), but definitely good enough to be a front-end starter on most MLB teams. On a prospective 2013 Blue Jays rotation, Shaun Marcum would immediately slot in as the 2nd best starting pitcher on the team, especially given the kind of season to forget that Ricky Romero has had.
But there’s the health risk. That’s probably the biggest knock against the idea of the Blue Jays going after a player like Marcum – that he’s had multiple problems with his pitching elbow. Especially after the year that the Blue Jays have had dealing with injuries, could the team really justify signing another who would likely end up requiring elbow surgery down the line?
Well, I think it depends. Do you let circumstantial incidents affect future decisions? If the Blue Jays staff had been perfectly healthy all year, and the team is only looking at a starter because of poor performance, does it make Marcum’s injury risk easier to take? I would say no, even if it would be a real bummer if the team did sign Marcum and he wound up getting hurt.
That said, is the risk of Marcum getting hurt any greater than the injuries that have occurred to Brandon Morrow, Kyle Drabek, Drew Hutchison, etc? That is probably a little more difficult to answer. Marcum has already gone through Tommy John surgery once, and that he’s having more problems with his pitching elbow this season is definitely a red flag. Then again, how many other players in the FA pool have his kind of upside? Brandon McCarthy, sure – but he’s an injury risk too. Ditto someone like Jake Peavy (assuming that his expensive option isn’t picked up).
It would seem that if the Blue Jays aren’t willing to take on a fair amount of injury risk on players with higher upsides, they’re off settling for players who are yet another tier below for the sake of consistency. Why spend money on a player who might not even be better than what you already have? The risky players are well…risky, but at least they’ll get you better innings provided that they stay healthy. And isn’t improvement the whole point?
Not that I’m suggesting that the Blue Jays should be throwing money blindly for the sake of upside. Clearly, it’d be prudent to taken the injury history into account, and not get into bidding wars with another team who might be overpaying for an high-upside, injury-prone player just because the remaining options aren’t very good. But hey, it’s not like the team hasn’t taken on serious injury risks before (hello, Dustin McGowan), and while a player like Shaun Marcum will probably have more leverage than that in the FA market (I don’t think the Blue Jays are going to get him for uh, $1.5M) a known quantity with a consistent track record of quality innings – even if the team doesn’t know exactly how many innings there’ll be – would be a worthwhile pursuit at the right price, as the Blue Jays look to rebuild its rotation in ’13…say, 3-year, $30M, maybe?