The Cincinnati Reds have locked up left handed reliever Sean Marshall for $16.5 million over three years beginning in 2013. This coming season, Marshall will earn $3.1 million as the final part of the two year deal he signed with the Chicago Cubs to cover his remaining years of arbitration eligibility.

The contract is especially noteworthy not only because it includes $1 million bonuses for both games started and games finished, but also because of this:

Impending free agency isn’t a fun topic for the Reds. On again, off again negotiations with Brandon Phillips have so far failed to result in an extension, and as ESPN’s Keith Law hints at above, the team’s best player has a contract that will expire at the end of the 2013 season. With the financial demands of the future appearing to be overwhelming, you can be forgiven for thinking it odd that the team would lock up a reliever for that kind of money over the next three years.

That’s not to take anything away from Marshall who has been one of the best relievers in baseball over the last two seasons, all while making an astounding 158 appearances. It just seems unnecessary to commit that much money to a pitcher who only found success after dropping a cutter from his repertoire and throwing more than twice as many breaking pitches as fastballs.

The wear and tear on his arm from his preferred pitching arsenal combined with his amount of use over the last two years should raise warning signs as he enters his early thirties. Making matters more head scratching is that the three year deal is being handed to him even though he was already under contract for the coming season.

Let’s imagine a scenario playing out wherein Marshall has another a career year in 2012 that matches or exceeds his 2011 season. Would Marshall really be all that likely to demand more on the open market than what he’s signing for with this extension? In recent memory, only Scott Downs and Joaquin Benoit signed similar free agent deals, but both were for less money despite more extensive track records of success.

With this deal, the Reds seem to be taking all of the risk at a time when they absolutely shouldn’t. It’s possible that by extending Marshall, the Reds see themselves locking up a future closer to take over for Ryan Madson after his contract comes up at the end of this season.

However, I wonder if the team isn’t more financially aware than that. It wouldn’t justifythe premature extension of Marshall, but signing him might signify the team’s understanding of their limitations. Given the amounts of money that Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder signed for this off season, and after seeing Ryan Zimmerman’s recent contract extension, perhaps the Reds realize that they won’t be able to keep both Phillips and Votto.

This would also explain the lengths to which the team has gone this off season to put all their chips on the table in a push for success in the NL Central. They traded prospects for Mat Latos, gave up a younger pitcher to bring back Marshall and signed Ryan Madson to a risk averse one year deal. These are the moves of a team that’s ready to compete, and perhaps also a team aware of a limited window of opportunity.

If they fail to take advantage of their opportunity this coming season, the team’s best course of action is likely moving Votto at the trade deadline rather than waiting until the off season or the middle of his walk year. Such an asset on the trade market could bring back the type of haul that the Texas Rangers got when they moved Mark Teixeira to the Atlanta Braves at the trade deadline in 2007. The Rangers received the top three prospects in the Braves system according to Baseball America in Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Elvis Andrus and Matt Harrison, as well as Neftali Feliz and Beau Jones. A year later, Teixeira only managed to bring back Casey Kotchman and Steve Marek from the Los Angeles Angels when the Braves traded him in another deadline deal.

While the rest of the NL Central will continue to hope for the Reds failure, there may be a few other teams out there hoping that Cincinnati finds themselves on the outside looking in come late July.

For a team like the Toronto Blue Jays, long considered to be interested in the acquisition of Votto, who was born and raised nearby, the conversation likely starts with three of the following prospects: Travis d’Arnaud, Jake Marisnick, Anthony Gose, Drew Hutchison, Noah Syndergaard and Dan Norris. It would certainly be a steep price, but one that without a doubt would be a game changer in the AL East.

Of course, all this not only assumes that the Reds won’t be in the playoff hunt by mid summer (a rather large leap considering the moves they made this off season and their competition in the NL Central), but also that the team is unable to keep both Votto and Phillips. No matter what the team’s long term plans are however, I’m afraid it doesn’t explain why they’d lock up an admittedly effective, but ultimately inessential Marshall, a year before he faced free agency.

Comments (24)

  1. It doesn’t make sense for the Jays to trade for Votto if they don’t plan on offering more than a five year contract.

  2. so instead of signing a LH 1B in the offseason, they should trade away their farm and then try to overpay a LH 1B who is 2mos. younger than the LH 1B they already have…

    but hey! he grew up outside toronto, so i’m sure he’d agree to take a giant paycut to play for a team that just mortgaged their future on the tail-end of his prime.

    • Not sure I’d be up to trading away that many guys of supposed big potential and then have to turn around and drop a fortune on him to keep in town. That was one of the arguments for putting out for Fielder now. The money’s going to be roughly the same without the loss of so much minor league talent. After this year’s draft, that talent is going to become that much more valuable for teams like the Jays. With loss of revenue sharing dollars and a payroll that’s on the rise, cheap high ceiling guys become that much more important.

      Of course it all depends on how big of a step the Jays take forward this year and what Lind ends up doing.

      • don’t tell DrunkJaysFans this… it’s waaaay too sensible for that blog…oh wait, where am i again?

        sigh.

    • They are indeed both LH 1B who are close in age. However, a key difference is Votto is an MVP while Lind plays terribly and has a shit eating grin.

  3. Maybe the deal is the Reds way of limiting their short-term costs. If they make Marshall their closer in 2013 then he’s going to make a couple million less than Madson is making now. You could argue all they’ve done is lock up a younger and better pitcher starting in 2013 at a salary that’s going to be about 65% of what they are paying Madson in 2012 if you take the AAV of the $16.5 million over the 3 years. They remove the risk of having to compete for a closer on the open market next year and remove the risk they don’t end up getting someone as cost-effective.

    If they are actually looking at exploring ways to make room on their payroll for Votto after 2013 this seems like a good idea. Considering Madson was deemed a steal at $8.5 million for one year by everyone and their grandmother then this move has lots of potential considering Marshall isn’t likely to earn anywhere near what Madson is over the life of the extension. Looking ahead to the free agent class of 2013 there’s no where near the quality names available that there was this year.

    You do have good points regarding risk when it comes to a reliever but that risk is really no different than any multi-year contract awarded to other relievers. The relatively low value of the contract makes the upside quite worth it imo if he ends up being the closer.

    • I thought about this, but then why sign him right now? As I mentioned in the piece, his value isn’t going to go past what they’re paying even if he repeats what he’s done the last two years. There’s little risk in them waiting out the season.

      • It will if he becomes a closer and it takes him off the market before free agency in 2013. I’d lean more to your view point if he didn’t become closer in 2013. As you are saying now, I can’t see any other logical reason for them to sign the extension without doing that.

        In a way, they’ve potentially mirrored the Molina-Santos deal to some extent, The obvious difference being the years of control. But if you look at what the Jays will be paying Santos when he’s 30-33, the Reds will be paying Marshall a similar amount for his age 30-32 seasons.

        • Santos has a far greater upside than Marshall. Younger, better stuff, etc. Those are also all options for the Blue Jays, while this is guaranteed money . . . agreed to before they had to in my opinion.

          • Aiyah! Far greater upside? I guess if you’re defining how far Santos has to go to get to Marshall’s level of performance the past couple of years. Yeah Santos might get more strikeouts but he walks a shit tonne more. Check out the FanGraphs article on Marshall and look at his rankings over the last two years. Then check out the WPA, it’s not even close. If Santos turns out to be as good as Marshall has been the last 2 years as a reliever I’ll be very happy. You are correct on the options but it’s irrelevant if Santos and his greater upside works out because he’ll most likely be doing the same job as Marshall for the same money. Anyway guess we will have to agree to disagree on this one.

  4. I thought the point of stockpiling so many prospects was partly to use them as pieces to acquire talent like Votto?

    • You acquire prospects for a number of things.

      Look at the list of prospects Parkes mentioned: Travis d’Arnaud, Jake Marisnick, Anthony Gose, Drew Hutchison, Noah Syndergaard and Dan Norris.

      d’Arnaud is a catcher we really need. The rest could be expendable in my opinion.

      I think Parkes was spot-on with the price of 3 prospects in exchange for Votto. Just which 3 would be up for debate. If the opportunity arises, I would pull the trigger on a deal.

  5. AA and Jocketty have probably had numerous discussions regarding Votto. A rival GM once said this of our beloved AA: ‘He’s the only GM with a 60 man roster’.

    My feeling is that the Reds want to see what kind of year they have (and vice-versa with the Jays). If this deal happens before the trade deadline (and this would surprise me greatly), its probably due to the fact that some other teams are making enquiries and its a take it now or leave it scenario.

    I wouldn’t lose sleep in losing a Gose or Marisnick (along with any two of the pitching prospects). But d’Arnaud is the one guy I would have a hard time trading away. I can change my mind if JPA shows that he improve his OBP and continues to hit for power.

  6. “the conversation likely starts with three of the following prospects: Travis d’Arnaud, Jake Marisnick, Anthony Gose, Drew Hutchison, Noah Syndergaard and Dan Norris”

    Pass. Look at the Texeira trade- that turned out pretty horribly for Atlanta; and all we’d have is Votto for a year and a half, and the privilege of signing him to a huge contract. If we knew Votto would be happy to sign a friendlyish contract, maybe it makes sense. Otherwise, I’d be pretty upset.

  7. I wrote a bit about how I liked the signing as a Reds fan on my blog, and this doesn’t change my mind. Marshall’s contract is affordable for the Reds, and only the last two years will coincide with needing funds to resign Votto. I don’t think the $5.3M/year is really going to play a deciding role in their ability to bring back Votto anyhow; and even if they did I’m sure they could unload Marshall pretty easily. If they turn him into a closer they’ll save a bunch of money over signing another on the free agent market in 2013; or it would turn him into an even more valuable trade chip.

  8. Look at Marshall’s arm! He’s a man-wolf…

  9. I do wonder if the Jays could pull off a Votto deal without giving up too much. The reality is, a great prospect still isn’t quite as good as a great MLB player (since you already know what you have with the MLB player). If Rasmus turns out to be the stud everyone thought he was, you could make a case for moving Gose or Marisnick. If the current crop of starters turn out to be the real deal (after Romero; Morrow, McGowan, Alvarez, Cecil and/or others like Drabek), it’s possible that some of those good young starters in the minors will be blocked and therefore, considered more valuable as trade chips. You’d include Lind in any deal for Votto I’d think, and if Kelly Johnson starts to rake again this year, you’d have to consider either Adeiny or Escobar to be movable assets as well.

    At the end of the day, this coming season will go a long way towards showing us just what the Jays have in terms of trade chips. We’ll see how it goes; either way, I think the Jays are in great shape going forward.

  10. I have a feeling when it comes to Lawrie and Votto the Jays would go longer than 5 years. They’d make the exceptions for these two because having two Canadians — one of whom is a hometown kid — anchoring your lineup and being the faces of your club would put asses in the seats. And that’s what Rogers wants. Remains to be seen if they would even get Votto obviously, but that’s just my theory.

  11. Take D’Arnaud off the list and they can have any three. Plus, Reds have a catcher ranked higher than D’Arnaud anyway.

    this is an MVP people, regardless of where he was born

  12. Well said TJ, an MVP comes on the market you deal any 3 of those prospects and luckily the Reds don’t realistically want D’Arnaud.

  13. I find the idea that signing a 5.5M (possibly undervalued if he becomes a closer) contract will prevent the Reds from re-signing their MVP a tad ridiculous.. just sayin..

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