Quick Hits: On Criticism of the Shaun Marcum Signing

By Will DeBoer

Early Monday, the Bleacher Report posted a compilation article called “Free-Agent Moves Each MLB Team Should Have Made This Offseason.” When they eventually came to the Mets’ move, featured columnist Benjamin Klein’s piece was titled “Don’t Sign Shaun Marcum.” Aside from taking the easy way out with his selection of a non-move as a move, three major criticisms arose from the article’s arguments.

Mar 10, 2013; Jupiter, FL, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Shaun Marcum (38) warms up against the St. Louis Cardinals at Roger Dean Stadium. The Mets defeated the Cardinals 3-0. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

First of all, Mr. Klein implies that because Marcum started the season injured, the whole signing was a bust. If Marcum’s neck discomfort had kept him out for four months it would have been a major disappointment, but it’s been four weeks, not four months. He tossed five solid innings in an extended spring training game in Port St. Lucie on Monday afternoon and is expected to make his season debut on Saturday against the Phillies. Passing any judgment on free agent signings 17 games into the season is beyond premature and irresponsible.

Second, the one silver lining Mr. Klein gave to the signing outshines the rest of his gray cloud. The bone he gives to the transaction is that it was cheap for the Mets. Indeed it was – Sandy Alderson inked Marcum for $4 million. Calling the signing “cheap” is an understatement; in an offseason that was, to say the least, a bull market for free agents, especially pitchers, the Marcum signing could be considered a steal. The Los Angeles Dodgers are giving $19 million this season (not to mention $128 million the five seasons after) to a guy who had a 3.77 career ERA coming into the season (Zack Greinke). The Detroit Tigers are giving $16 million for the next five seasons to a guy who is expected to be their fourth starter (Anibal Sanchez). Both of those pitchers have combined for a single All-Star appearance between 18 years of major-league experience and are making close to a quarter of a billion dollars over the next decade. Meanwhile, the Mets brought in a guy with a better ERA than Greinke (3.76) who, at age 31, is still in the prime of his career, but for a fraction of the price and one season of commitment. The price alone affirms the value of the Marcum signing; even if he missed the entire season, it still would have been a steal.

Finally, Mr. Klein asserted that once Marcum recovered, he’d only be taking a spot in the rotation from Zack Wheeler, whose promotion to the big leagues is imminent. The author seems to have forgotten that modern-day rotations require five starters, not four. The Mets barely have a four-man rotation right now; Opening Day fifth man Aaron Laffey got in two starts before being demoted in favor of Robert Carson on Sunday night. When Marcum returns he’ll immediately slide into the fourth man role, and once Wheeler comes up, Jeremy Hefner will be the one to lose his starting job, not Marcum. Hefner is better suited to the long relief role, and while he might make a passable fifth starter, he doesn’t stand up as a regular number four, a role he has been forced into. However, once all the pieces fall into place, the Mets would have an emerging ace (Matt Harvey), a strong lefty (Jonathon Niese), a hot rookie (Wheeler), and two other starters (Dillon Gee and Marcum) who could pass as third men on other teams filling in at four and five. As hard as it is to believe now, by the end of the season, the New York Mets may have one of the top rotations in the National League. And Shaun Marcum could be a big part of it.

For the reasons provided above, and despite Mr. Klein’s flimsy justifications, the Mets made the right decision in bringing Shaun Marcum to New York for at least 2013. The Bleacher Report sports a vast lineup of beat writers, but for this particular collection, they gave a team-based assignment to an author who didn’t have a grasp on the team he was writing about.

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