Oct 1, 2012; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Shaun Marcum (18) pitches against the San Diego Padres in the first inning at Miller Park. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

A Missed Opportunity

Last Thursday, the New York Mets agreed to terms with Shaun Marcum on a one-year deal. Once the numbers were released, it was announced that he’ll receive a base salary of $4 million with performance incentives that could add up to $4 million more (if he reaches them).

Back in November, the Royals had already traded for Ervin Santana and re-signed Jeremy Guthrie, and while there were rumors of a James Shields or Jon Lester trade floating around, there wasn’t anything concrete or imminent. The Royals were still in the market for a top pitcher. Marcum had been noted to have some interest in the Royals (being from nearby Excelsior Springs, Missouri) and the Royals had mutual interest.

At the time, Marcum was still looking for a multi-year deal and the big names like Zack Greinke and Anibal Sanchez had yet to sign. The Royals clearly weren’t ready to make him an offer of any kind, but to do so then would have had to have been something of more than the one year he eventually got. Given that his 2012 wasn’t the best health-wise (he missed two months with elbow soreness and had shoulder issues entering the year), nobody can blame the Royals (or any other team) for holding off on pursuing Marcum. Also, as I’d noted in November, Marcum’s fastball velocity had been dropping year by year and he’d been giving up more and more line drives.

So no, he wasn’t a perfect option. But he was a good one.

Fast forward to January. The Royals have acquired James Shields and seem primed to let Bruce Chen or Luke Hochevar be the fifth starter to open 2013. Payroll had exceeded the supposed budget David Glass had established, but value is value. Marcum presented a risk but he’s performed well over the years and the upside of a deal is that he continues to pitch as well as he has. The downside is that he pitches about like Luke Hochevar did last year.

Maybe Marcum decided he didn’t  want to play for the Royals. Maybe he got an offer but the incentives weren’t there like they were with the Mets offer. Maybe the Royals were so concerned about his medicals that they avoided him altogether once they’d wrapped up Shields.

I just hope it wasn’t money. Signing a pitcher – even a risky one – at $4 million with that track record is something the Royals need to explore when they can. Maybe he only gets to 100 innings before something in his arm breaks, but at that point, you’ve spent the money and there’s depth to plug in. By July, Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino will be back or close to it. If Marcum could have gotten them to that point before breaking down, the Royals rotation may not have skipped a beat. If he gets beyond that point, then he’s a potential second-tier starter pitching for a team that needs them badly. So what if he starts to get his performance incentive money? That’s why it’s in there. If he can get to 150 innings and is pitching well, great. If he’s not pitching well, don’t let him get to 150 innings.

It’s possible that Marcum still struggles with elbow issues (he had Tommy John surgery in 2009 and has thrown 520 innings since) and  isn’t effective, but it’s also possible he could have provided quality innings throughout the season. He’d at least be an upgrade over Hochevar, Chen or other options, and would have allowed Santana and Wade Davis to slide in to the #4 and #5 rotation spots.

The market didn’t go Marcum’s way. While other pitchers cashed in big, he’s playing to re-establish value and show that he’s healthy so that next offseason he can get the big money commitment. It seems like the Royals had considered their search over after they’d gotten Shields and took their foot off the gas.

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