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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  • jimfetterolf

    I would assume it was the medicals, as everyone else passed on him for a long time. I thought him a good possibility before the Shields-Davis deal, but things have gotten crowded now and we have three TJS rehabbers on the way back, plus Yordano Ventura on the horizon, so there just wasn’t room at the inn for a soft-tossing rightie with declining velocity making the transition to the AL.

    • Michael Engel

      Sure and that so many teams passed on him and left him with just a one year deal available is significant, but I don’t think Ventura had anything to do with it. They hope he can reach KC this year, but he’s more likely to follow Odorizzi path and be little more than a September call up.
      And Marcum has already pitched in the AL, and did well in his last year in Toronto. If he’d only pitched in the NL, that’d be a different story.

      • jimfetterolf

        Not Ventura specifically, but he’s one of four possibilities and at the moment Marcum looks like he’ld be fighting for the 5th spot. Might have signed him before trading for Santana, but he was wanting multi-year then. Yeah, he pitched for Toronto I think, but had an extra four or five mph at the time and have seen studies suggesting decaying velocity is a red flag for impending injury. Santana has the same thing, which is why I hope he gets a hot start and returns a prospect or two, but moves on.

        As for Ventura, I think he’ll be a surprise, actually expect him at ASB when Santana is traded. I just like the looks of the kid, think he’ll be a fast riser and will be ready before the rehabbers.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1541624801 David Lowe

    A missed opportunity….to have an injured player on our roster. I loathe the Ervin Santana signing more than anything, and I would rather have Shaun Marcum rather than Santana…but that’s about it. I think Marcum spends the majority of 2013 on the DL.

    I think the Royals are going to regret the Santana signing MORE than the Jonathan Sanchez signing. How? Because we owe Santana more money – $12M. I think Santana will actually throw more strikes than Sanchez did, but he’s going to get pummeled. I hope it will happen differently than I say.

  • Eric Akers

    This seems to be how things work for the Royals: we want a guy early in the signing period but he wants more than we want to give him. Then after we finish setting the roster one or two of those guys signs for a very reasonable amount of money.

    Dempster signed for only $500K more than what we offered him after he originally wanted 3 years. That signing would have changed the Royals outlook tremendously. If we signed him, I bet we would still have been in on Marcum as well, and the Myers trade never happens.