Over the weekend, Milwaukee Brewers GM Doug Melvin told reporters that the team is prepared to watch Shaun Marcum’s performance this season, his last before becoming eligible for free agency for the first time, before discussing a potential contract extension. In other words, the Brewers are willing to risk Marcum’s departure from the team rather than sign him to an extension before he proves the he can bounce back from his terrible end to last season and an injury plagued start to this year’s Spring Training.
Such a laissez-faire approach to the situation is far from surprising.
Despite only visiting the Disabled List once since missing all of 2009 while recovering from Tommy John surgery, Marcum’s reputation for health risks isn’t unfounded due to the myriad of day to day injuries that have taken their toll on his back, legs, shoulder, fingers and hip. This year, as he scrambles to be ready for Opening Day, a stiff shoulder had kept him out of the lineup for exhibition games until the middle of last week.
While a general lack of urgency to lock up the right handed pitcher is understandable, it’s also worth nothing that by not pursuing a contract extension, the Brewers are admitting to a massive value loss in the trade that sent Brett Lawrie to the Toronto Blue Jays two off seasons ago. The deal would thereby be made even more lopsided than it appeared when the young third baseman made his Major League debut last year.
It’s not without some humour that at the same time as Melvin admits his hesitancy to sign Marcum long term, Jayson Stark of ESPN.com is already paving Lawrie’s path to the Hall of Fame.
You’d think that a month and a half in the big leagues wouldn’t tell us anything meaningful about any player, right? Well, guess again. Since 1900, only a dozen other players have had an OPS that high at age 21 or younger, in a season in which they got as many at-bats as Lawrie got in 2011. There’s not a Shane Spencer-ish fluke in the bunch. Ten of those players are now in the Hall of Fame. An 11th (Albert Pujols) is a lock to join them. The 12th was Hal Trosky, whose spectacular career path was cut short by migraines. There is only one other name on the list: Brett Lawrie. Whew.
Of course, that’s not to say that the Milwaukee front office is wrong to have their doubts about Marcum. It’s merely a reminder that cutting bait on the player represents a larger loss than merely waving goodbye to an unreliable starter.
As nice as it may have been for the Brewers to finally make the playoffs last season, the cost could prove to be much too high if the team is unable to retain the talent that not only got them there, but that also required them to mortgage their future to acquire.
Prince Fielder’s departure is one thing, but allowing Marcum and Zack Greinke, who is also entering his final season before free agent eligibility, to leave would also mean little in return for such prospects as Lawrie, Lorenzo Cain, Jeremy Jeffress and Jake Odorizzi.
If the Brewers have already given up on the Lawrie deal, perhaps it places even more emphasis on signing Greinke, something that, given the player’s refusal to be represented by an actual sports agent, will assuredly be a unique process. Of course, if the Brewers do wait until the end of the year to speak to Marcum about his return, they will have a small exclusive window to do so. For his part, the pitcher might still be interested.
I’d like to stay, but there’s not a whole lot I can do about it. I don’t write the checks and do what they do [in the front office]. They obviously have a reason for wanting to not do anything. That’s their decision, not mine. I haven’t closed the door. I love it here, my wife loves it here, kids like it. So, no, I won’t close the door. But if they close the door on their end, then it’s closed. There’s not a lot we can do about it.