The American League East is even more competitive than Shaun Marcum left it when the Blue Jays traded him to the Brewers for Brett Lawrie back in December 2010. Marcum is also two years older, and his health status is far more questionable.
That shouldn’t scare the Red Sox away.
Marcum is a real wild card on the open market this offseason, and someone who is unlikely to generate tons of media buzz – Zack Greinke he is not. But while Marcum will bring some risk to whichever team he lands with, the Red Sox would be wise to at least kick the tires on the veteran right-hander.
The Sox currently have the financial flexibility to do just about whatever they want this winter, so Ben Cherington‘s job is to figure out what exactly it is he’s looking to accomplish before Opening Day. While some fans will clamor for the likes of Greinke, Josh Hamilton or some other well-known free agent in order to make a splash and generate buzz, Cherington’s biggest move could be one of a lesser magnitude.
Acquiring what could amount to a cost-efficient, mid- to back-of-the-rotation arm would really help the Red Sox as they continue along in this strange transitional phase. Rolling the dice on a guy like Marcum for one year would do little to hinder the club’s financial flexibility beyond 2013, would help (at least temporarily) round out a rotation that should have the benefit of an improved Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, and could eventually net prospects in return if an impressive first half generates trade interest amongst contenders. (That’s if the Red Sox aren’t contenders themselves.)
Marcum is coming of an injury-plagued 2012 campaign in which he missed more than two months due to right elbow tightness. Such an injury is even more concerning when you consider the 30-year-old’s injury history. Prior to the 2012 hiccup, he didn’t pitch in the majors in 2009 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, and he had a 15-day DL stint in 2010 due to inflammation in the problematic right elbow.
Often times, rolling the dice on an established hurler coming off a banged-up season doesn’t pan out. (See Penny, Brad & Smoltz, John). But if the market materializes a little bit more, and starters start settling in outside of Boston, Marcum would at least provide what could be a stabilizing arm if he is, in fact, able to maintain his health.
Marcum pitched well in the AL East with the Blue Jays from 2005-10. He posted a 3.38 ERA in 2008, and then returned from Tommy John in 2009 to go 13-9 with a 3.64 ERA and a 1.147 WHIP in 31 starts in 2010. That turned him into a coveted starter, which ultimately led to the Marcum-for-Lawrie swap. Surely, it’s a deal the Brewers would love to have back given Lawrie’s promise, but Marcum pitched well in two seasons for the Brew Crew. He went 20-11 with a 3.60 ERA in 54 total starts, and helped Milwaukee win its first ever NL Central crown in 2011.
Is Marcum going to join a team this offseason and be a lights-out, front-end starter? Of course not. But with a dearth of appetizing arms, going with a pitcher who has at least proven he can get hitters out at the big league level could be the best course of action.
The Red Sox should see how the Marcum market plays out, but if teams start showing some reluctance, Boston would be wise to give the experiment a whirl.