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Free Agent Target: Shaun Marcum

January 1, 2013

There is a New Year and still plenty of roster tinkering to be done. The A’s this time last year had yet to sign Jonny Gomes or trade for Seth Smith two major pieces of their 2012 division championship. So continuing onwards with free agent targets, I still feel that the A’s need starting pitching and in that vein I think they ought to target right-hander Shaun Marcum. Marcum has drawn interest from the Brewers, Cubs, Mets, Padres and Twins but we have yet to hear of any interest from the A’s. That should change.

The 31-year-old Marcum, has been a consistent performer though last season missed significant time with an elbow problem. He made his major league debut in 2005 as a third-round pick in 2003 out of Missouri State. Over his first three seasons in Toronto he split his time between the rotation and bullpen throwing 245 1/3 innings across 64 outings, 39 of which were starts. During that time he posted a 4.29 ERA and 5.04 FIP, being valued at 1.8 WAR. As a starter his results were quite similar to out of the pen (211 1/3 innings, 4.17 ERA, 5.10 FIP) but the Blue Jays opted to shift him into the rotation full time beginning in 2008. The decision paid off as he delivered a 2008 campaign that produced 7.3 K/9, 3.0 BB/9 and 1.3 HR/9 for a 3.39 ERA and 4.46 FIP for 2.0 WAR though his season was cut short as he needed Tommy John surgery that would sideline him for the entire 2009 season as well. Back on the mound in 2010, a healthy Marcum put together a strong season with 195 1/3 innings of 7.6 K/9, 2.0 BB/9 and 1.1 HR/9 baseball good for a 3.64 ERA and 3.74 FIP and 3.6 WAR. The Brewers looking to make a playoff push dealt top prospect Brett Lawrie to the Blue Jays in the 2010-11 offseason to acquire Marcum. In 2011 for the Brew Crew, he pitched 200 2/3 innings posting 7.1 K/9, 2.6 BB/9 and 1.0 HR/9 for a 3.54 ERA and 3.73 FIP and 2.8 WAR. Last year he missed significant time with elbow issues, but still delivered 21 starts and 124 innings with a career high 7.9 K/9, to go with 3.0 BB/9 and 1.2 HR/9 for a 3.70 ERA, 4.10 FIP and 1.4 WAR.

Marcum doesn’t throw hard, his fastball velocity of 86.3 mph ranked higher than just four other pitchers in 2012 whom had thrown as many innings as he, but he has found success despite that in the past effectively using his secondary pitches to keep hitters on their toes as evidenced by a strong 7.3 career K/9 rate, and above average 19.5% K%. His swinging strike percentage also is well above average with a career mark of 10.4%. He throws about five pitches with equal consistency and that has served him well (a fastball, slider, cut, curve and changeup).

Why Oakland Should Get Him

Marcum has proven to be a capable pitcher. He has pitched in the very tough American League East, and in a very tough place to pitch in the Rogers Centre and has succeeded. Marcum gives up his fair share of home runs, 1.2 HR/9 for his career, but Miller Park and Rogers Centre are not places conducive to keeping home runs in check and the Coliseum ought to serve him well in that regard. Marcum is one of those pitchers whose FIP is impacted by his HR/9, his xFIP which normalizes home run rates, is at 4.13 for his career, compared to a 3.76 career ERA and 4.25 career FIP. Despite that, with 916 2/3 innings of work, his ability to keep his ERA consistently below his peripherals indicates he is able to get the job done. His BABIP is at .270 which could indicate his mix of speeds helps him to induce poor contact and though the A’s infield defense looks a bit more porous this season than last, at the very least be offset by the fewer home runs he allows allowing him to continue the level of consistency he has demonstrated these past few seasons.

Why Oakland Should Steer Clear

A pitcher with elbow problems, on the wrong side of 30, Marcum comes with a lot of risks. With Oakland looking to get a pitcher to mitigate the youth and inexperience in their rotation a 60-day disabled list stint, as Marcum had in 2012, would be detrimental to the club’s objectives of shielding their young pitchers from a heavy workload, especially if they face adversity.

There are also cost concerns. Marcum is a good pitcher and good pitchers, even those with durability question marks, get paid handsomely. Marcum could very easily be priced well out of Oakland’s means and if that in turn features an extended disabled list stint that’s doubly problematic for the A’s. There is the chance also that Marcum, despite languishing on the free agent market into January, could be in line for a mutli-year deal which might make him less than suitable for the A’s who look to graduate a great deal of starting pitching in the next two years. Bill James has projected Marcum to post a 3.63 ERA and 4.01 FIP in 196 innings of 7.4 K/9, 2.7 BB/9 and 1.2 HR/9 in 2013, if he is accurate, those numbers do not come cheaply.

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