If the Baltimore Orioles do, in fact, intend to sign a free agent starting pitcher this offseason I’m fairly confident in my ability to predict it won’t be Zack Greinke, Anibal Sanchez, or even Edwin Jackson. As a matter of fact, I’m pretty certain they will look for low cost-risk/high reward types and out of the ones that are free agents Shaun Marcum is the one with arguably the most upside.
Marcum was well on his way to establishing himself as a solid top of the rotation starter in 2008 with the Toronto Blue Jays, thanks to a 3.39 ERA and a 7.31 K/9 rate over 25 starts and 151.1 innings. Had it not been for an injury that forced him to have Tommy John surgery, missing the rest of the 2008 season and all of but four rehab starts in 2009, we likely wouldn’t even be talking about him as a potential free agent option.
Even though Marcum bounced back in 2010 by posting a 13-8 record with a 3.64/3.74 ERA/FIP, a 7.60 K/9 rate and a 1.98 BB/9 rate over 195.1 innings of work (31 starts) it didn’t stop the Blue Jays from trading him to the Milwaukee Brewers for prospect Brett Lawrie the following offseason. Not a bad deal at all for the Blue Jays, as they picked up a guy who has since become one of the best defensive third baseman in all of baseball and has shown some decent skills with the bat as well and were able to sell very high on a pitcher who put up strong numbers following Tommy John surgery.
He put up solid numbers again in 2011, when he went 13-7 with a 3.54/3.73 ERA/FIP and a 7.09 K/9 rate over 200.2 innings of work (33 starts). The only real cause for concern was that he was really tiring down the stretch, posting a 5.17/4.49 ERA/FIP through the months of September and October, and he was absolutely abysmal during the playoffs – going 0-3 with a 14.90/7.58 ERA/FIP over 9.2 innings (three starts).
Marcum’s 2012 season got off to a bumpy start during spring training though, as he dealt with some shoulder soreness (bursitis) just as he did during the 2011 spring. Even though it was mentioned that it wasn’t nearly as bad or limiting as it was in 2011, it was still cause for concern given his history.
He got over that shoulder soreness well enough to begin the regular season as scheduled and all-in-all I wouldn’t call his 2012 season bad. I’d consider it more disappointing than anything considering the expectations placed on him heading into this past season. Over all, he was 7-4 with a 3.70/4.10 ERA/FIP and had an amazing 7.91 K/9 rate – which isn’t half bad for a guy who threw a fastball that topped out at around 86 mph.
The reason why I mentioned that this past season for Marcum was more disappointing than anything was because he was only able to make 21 starts for the Brewers, pitching just 124 innings, due to elbow stiffness. That’s the lowest number of innings he’s pitched since the 2006 season with the Blue Jays, when he was a late season call-up. He was only supposed to miss one or two starts because of the elbow but instead wound up missing an entire two months of the season.
What’s most peculiar about his elbow stiffness is that it was never really fully explained by the Brewers last season and we’re not even sure if it’s something that will become a reoccurring theme over the rest of his career or not.
One thing’s for sure though, Marcum’s medical records will be thoroughly examined by any organization even slightly interested in signing him. If everything checks out then he should be in line for a “prove you can stay healthy for a full season again” type of one-year contract worth between $8 and $10 million dollars. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see him get a two-year deal (of some kind) worth between $18 and $20 million dollars – with that second year either being a straight team option or something that only kicks in once he reaches a certain number of innings.
If in fact the Orioles do have interest (and I’m pretty certain they do) then the biggest road block to signing him to a contract could be owner Peter Angelos. He has a history of refusing to allow any contracts with a pitcher, or any player really, that has even the slightest question mark in their medical records or has somewhat of a checkered past in regards to durability.
Marcum could certainly prove himself worth taking a chance on for the 2013 season, he did put up back-to-back complete seasons in 2010 and 2011 that were each pretty solid. At the same time, if you’re the Orioles, you have to take a chance on a guy like Marcum at some point and this off-season may very well be the best time to take that chance.