Is A Reasonable Marcum Extension Possible? | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

Pitchers and catchers, at least most of them, officially reported for work on Saturday. That means a deluge of “best shape of their life” and “contract talks are not progressing” stories are going to be filling up everyone’s twitter feeds in the coming days. Brewers’ fans have already been treated to some of both with pitcher Shaun Marcum. First, earlier this month Marcum mentioned to Todd Rosiak that he was working this off-season on strengthening his core and legs in an effort to imitate his college delivery. Then on Saturday, he revealed (again to Rosiak) that he is interested in talking about a long-term extension with the Brewers, but discussions have not yet taken place. Marcum recently came to terms on a 1 year contract buying out his final year of salary arbitration before he becomes eligible to test free agency following the upcoming season. Given that Marcum was last seen getting torched by both the Cardinals and Diamondbacks lineups in the playoffs, the Brewers appear perfectly happy to wait and see what Marcum does, at least for now. If and when the Brewers do decide to start talking with Marcum about being a Brewer past 2012, just what sort of numbers are going to be discussed?

It’s always hard to know exactly what a player might be looking for in a contract, unless their agent is Scott Boras, of course. Though there are obvious differences, perhaps the best place to start looking for a number is Mark Buerhle and his 4 year, 58 million dollar contract this off season. Buerhle obviously gets a big value boost due to his 11 straight seasons of 200 innings pitched, something Marcum can claim to have done only once, in 2011. Mitigating that advantage a bit is the fact that Marcum is almost 3 years younger. Beyond those differences, though, there are a lot of similarities. Both lack big time fastballs and thus rely on outstanding change ups and command to get outs. Over the past two years, Marcum  accrued 6.3 wins above replacement while Buerhle accounted for 7.1. That’s close enough that an agent can compare them in talks and not get totally laughed out of the room. If Marcum hits the open market following a season similar to Buerhle’s last, it’s not hard to see his agent shooting for a 4 year deal somewhere in the  50 million dollar range. If the right team is desperate for pitching and is willing to ignore the health issues to a large degree, he might just get something in that neighborhood.

If those are indeed the sort of terms that Marcum and his agent will look for after a successful season, it’s quite possible a sort of catch-22 will emerge. Since the Brewers aren’t willing to sign him now, when his value is as low as it’s been since he demonstrated he was recovered from Tommy John surgery in 2010, the cost will only go up with productive play. On the other hand, if he struggles, there is little chance the team will be interested in any sort of a long-term deal anyway. In other words, the more interested the Brewers will become, the more his salary will escalate past the limits of what the team is likely willing to pay.

Further complicating matters is the fact that the Brewers are also in a holding pattern right now with the other pitcher they traded for last off-season, Zack Greinke. He’s likewise open to the idea of talking to the Brewers about his contract situation, but he doesn’t have an agent at the moment and it’s not at all clear just how and when discussions are going to take place. Given the contracts already on the books for Corey Hart, Aramis RamirezRickie Weeks, Yovani Gallardo, and Ryan Braun over the next two years and beyond, it’s questionable whether the team has the flexibility to lock up one, let alone both. That means that any extension for one basically precludes the team from signing the other. So if the Brewers want to sign Greinke, they can’t really do much of anything with Marcum until that issue is first resolved. That makes it even more unlikely that the Brewers can make Marcum the sort of “buy low” offer before that could actually yield a bargain if he plays well in the coming months.

So what would be an acceptable Marcum extension if the team can’t sign Greinke? I posed the question Saturday on Twitter and the answers were mostly between 2-3 years at 7-10 million dollars annually, including 2012. Many also noted that they didn’t think that sort of offer would get a deal done, which is probably true. Early decline seems quite possible with his already limited fastball velocity 86.8 MPH average in 2011.  Losing a few ticks on a 95 MPH fastball is one thing, but how many guys with an 84 or 85 MPH fastball have sustained success? He’s very productive when healthy, but has missed a lot of time and that’s just impossible to ignore when talking about a long-term contract extension. Ultimately, the Brewers are almost certainly better off doing everything in their power to lock up Greinke long term to a contract similar to the 5 year, 85 million dollar deal that Angels pitcher Jered Weaver inked last year. Of course, Greinke might have more in mind than that and could easily price himself out of Milwaukee with a stellar season if a deal isn’t done ahead of time. In that case, the Brewers will have to be very careful to avoid “settling” for Marcum at whatever price it takes just so they have something to show for their December 2010 trades going forward. The worst mistakes are often made when a team feels it simply has to do something, regardless of the merits and long term consequences.

(H/T to @BrewerNation)

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Tell us what do you think.

  1. Nicholas Zettel says: February 20, 2012

    Nice analysis! I ultimately agree with skepticism about his injury history and I agree completely with this:

    “The worst mistakes are often made when a team feels it simply has to do something, regardless of the merits and long term consequences.”

    However, I pose a hypothetical: Marcum is one of the few pitchers where losing fastball velocity doesn’t matter, so long as (a) he selects his change up regularly, and (b) his change up is separated from his fastball.

    What I hope the Brewers can realize is that Marcum is not Jeff Suppan — a low-velocity everything-thrower without one particular weapon. Marcum is a PURE junkballer, change-up first pitcher; as long as he can separate his change up and he doesn’t use his fastball frequently, he can continue to defy expectations.

    Greinke’s the shiny object, but ultimately, Marcum’s the one with consecutive Top 20 seasons in the AL and NL. There are legitimate reasons to stay away from both pitchers, but the Brewers might be able to stay out of trouble with Marcum, moreso than Greinke. 4/$56 seems way more reasonable for Marcum than 5/$80+ for Greinke.

    • Ryan Topp says: February 20, 2012

      I absolutely think velocity matters, even for a guy with Marcum’s change, even if the speed difference is there. Ultimately, he still has to throw the FB to set up the change up. If that FB is just floating up there, I really think it decreases the rate at which hitters will “miss” it when he doesn’t place it exactly where he wants it. Differential helps an awful lot, but hitters are still going to guess right quite a bit and when they do, they’ll tee off on his stuff.

      As for the Greinke V Marcum thing, not only do I not trust Marcum to stay healthy and productive as he ages (especially when compared to Greinke) but I have no expectation he’ll post truly outstanding seasons int he future. I do expect that from Zack. Everyone has their theories about why Greinke has struggled to strand runners at times and keep balls in the park, but I’m not convinced these issues are systemic and destined to remain in place forever. I think he’s likely to post a couple of top 5 pitcher value seasons over the next 5 years. That sort of upside is very hard to find, and if you can keep it, I think you have to do so.

      • Nicholas Zettel says: February 21, 2012

        I agree about Marcum’s health issues completely.

        However, on the Greinke comparison, the trouble is, his cost is extremely high to count on upside. We all understand that he posts unbelievable peripherals, but there’s no reason to expect his performance to correct solely because of that; he might break out and have another elite season, or he might be a Morrow/Nolasco type.

        Let’s put it this way: Greinke had the upside in 2010 and 2011 as well, but he was an average pitcher anyway; how does that upside fit into the Brewers’ payroll structure if it only results in average production?

        For that gamble, I’d rather the Brewers rely on their young arms.

        • Ryan Topp says: February 22, 2012

          OK, so as insane as this sounds, I just spent the better part of an hour staring at Greinke’s fangraphs page, trying to decipher the numbers there. Based on the overall picture, I do think there is significant evidence that 2010 was a true regression of some of the underlying numbers (like the K rate) which led to a downturn in the numbers, but that 2011 was pretty fluky in the disparity between the xFIP and ERA.

          The things I like about Greinke, beyond the obvious K:BB stuff, are that his GB rate is improving as time goes on, and that last year appeared to be a true outlier in HR/FB. My main concerns are that his LD rate is going up a bit and his FB velocity is declining slightly. Those things don’t have to kill a pitcher, especially if they’re doing most other things right, but they do raise a bit of a red flag.

          Ultimately, I think some very good seasons from Greinke are on the horizon, especially if he can stay in the NL Central. Obviously not a guarantee, but I really think there is good evidence that it’s likely.

          • Nicholas Zettel says: February 22, 2012

            I think that you have his path from 2010-present right on. The thing that concerns me are his mechanical changes over time; his stuff and ability to repeat his delivery have changed over time. It appears that the end of 2011 was a slight correction over that, but I’m not sure where he goes after this.

  2. Bill says: February 20, 2012

    I may be a little biased by what the crew gave up for him, but I am not sold on Marcum as a front end of the rotation pitcher. If he does drop that fastball to a 84/85 MPH pitch like you say, he would be at best a low 3 high 4 pitcher, similar to what we have now with Wolf (3YR ~30M). You could probably bump that up to 12M a year for Marcum for his age, but I think anything over 3 years would be a big mistake.

    Who knows, maybe Marcum is the wise choice for the price, but if they do sign him they would need to find a #2 behind Yo because Marcum is definitely not that. And if they cant afford to keep both Greinke and Marcum I doubt they will be able to find a #2 type FA/Trade with the same money.

    To me Greinke is the safe option if he continues to feel comfortable with the team and they keep winning. I would much rather have Greinke/Yo than Yo/Marcum. If they can lock up Greinke with a deal similar to Weaver’s (4/5YR ~17M/YR) then you are only looking at 22.5M in 2012, 24.75M in 13, 28.25M in 14, and 30M in 15 for both Greinke and Yo. In comparison, the Giants just gave Lincecum ~20.25M per year and that will go up again in 2014. Now I know they would have to do some clever dealings with the team payroll in the next couple years to make this happen as a lot of the current players are scheduled to make hefty pay raises in the coming years, but to me Greinke is the best choice of the two.

    • Ryan Topp says: February 20, 2012

      Yes, it’s getting hard pretty fast to fit these players into the payroll. That’s part of why I really lament the wasting of 2009-2010 the way the team did it. They had a tremendous opportunity there with so much value coming from so many cheap players, and they got 2 playoff appearances out of it so far, and it’s certainly not getting any easier as the years go on.

      Anyway, I obviously agree about Greinke v Marcum. I just think the potential for disaster is so high with Marcum that they’re better off simply scrapping and rebuilding than trying to make him a centerpiece of a winner long term.


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