Blue Jays free agent depth target bantering: Shaun Marcum


On another slow day in Blue Jays land, we’re catching up with some free agent target profiles. First up is another stop on the Reunion Tour: Shaun Marcum

— Editor’s Note: It didn’t take long for the first wild pitch of 2016! Our friends at Blue Jays Aggregator pointed out that Marcum agreed to take a coaching position with Northwestern Oklahoma State following the 2015 season, news that flew well under my radar until this afternoon. We wish Shaun all the best in this next stage, and welcome you all to mentally replace his name here with whomever you’d please. Some of the reasoning behind the free agent link, however, can be extrapolated from this argument and tacked on to similar players.

Despite the recent lull, the Blue Jays are not done with the 2016 MLB offseason. For no other reason than, well, they can’t be done. Major League rotation and bullpen support would be preferable, but pitching depth at AAA Buffalo still remains a necessity.

We’ll be checking in on some logical targets for the Blue Jays over the coming days, and old friend Shaun Marcum came to mind early in the process. There seems to be a notion that re-uniting with an old player (a la J.A. Happ) is an automatically poor move or a sign of weakness, but that’s largely an empty excuse to be angry.

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The available pool of free agent talent remains too large to pull from at random, though, so there does need to be some level of higher likelihood to make someone like Marcum worthy of a look. For Marcum, that link is not his tenure in Toronto , it’s his tenure with the Cleveland Indians.

Marcum signed with Cleveland prior to the 2014 season, but was shut down in May after dealing with a recurring shoulder issue. The Indians brass, however, including Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro, saw something they liked and re-upped with Marcum this past offseason as well.

In his age-33 season with Cleveland, Marcum spent the majority of the year at AAA Columbus. His numbers were strong over 88.1 innings there, posting a 3.26 ERA with a quality walk rate of 2.1 BB/9. He would also surface with the MLB club through May and June, pitching to a 5.40 ERA over six starts.

Between injuries and an ugly stop with the New York Mets, Marcum hasn’t made a noticeable MLB impact since 2012 in Milwaukee, where he enjoyed two strong seasons after being traded from Toronto for prospect Brett Lawrie (December, 2010). Major League dominance isn’t exactly the goal with these types of signings, however. Competence is, and the role of a Jeff Francis or Randy Wolf at the AAA level in 2015 does have an underrated value to an organization.

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Marcum is essentially a Mark Buehrle arm when it comes to velocity. He’ll pound away with a fastball, slider and changeup, but has begun using his quality cutter as a more primary pitch since leaving the Blue Jays five years ago. His fastball will top out in the neighborhood of 86.0 MPH, down from a peak range of 88.0 MPH in his first tenure. His inability to consistently create ground balls isn’t thrilling, but if you find me a 34-year old minor league depth arm free of flaws, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.

The value of arms like Marcum (Francis, Wolf, etc.) at the AAA level is that they keep a spot consistently occupied without their youth or potential necessarily tempting the MLB club. This limits the need to bounce arms like Chad Jenkins back and forth between long-relief and spot starts. Essentially, they limit the variables that can impact their younger teammates, many of whom are valuable prospects.

It becomes a cloudy pool of names when you dip past those free agents who will undoubtedly be seeking a guaranteed Major League deal, but the level of familiarity between the current Jays front office and Marcum allows of him to be somewhat of a known commodity.

We’ve seen this happen already with the signing of Roberto Hernandez, who played under Shapiro and Atkins from 2006 to 2012. So looking down the list of remaining minor league depth options, Shaun Marcum, or a pitcher with similar traits and factors, likely sits higher on their list than most.