The Brewers went a long way in shoring up their 2011 rotation Sunday by trading for Toronto Blue Jays starter Shaun Marcum. However, the move didn't come cheap as the Brewers had to send one of their top prospects, Brett Lawrie, in exchange.
The early reaction I have gaged from this trade is Lawrie is a lot to give up for a pitcher like Shaun Marcum. That may be true, but I also believe many are underestimating the talent level of Marcum.
The evaluation of this trade breaks down to two different points.
1) Marcum's talent and health issues
2) Marcum's signability
3) Lawrie's future
When looking at the first point, there's little doubt that Marcum is a talented pitcher. Last season, he was able to post an ERA of 3.64 in the high powered AL East. That was right about where he should have been as he registered at a 3.74 FIP. Last season was highlighted by his sparkling 1.98 BB/9 and a strikeout to walk ratio of nearly four to one. Those are very good numbers, but there was also some concern with Marcum's finish to the season and how it related to his past.
Near the end of the 2008 season, Marcum left a start with elbow pain. Days later, it was revealed Marcum would have to undergo Tommy John surgery to repair a ligament in his pitching elbow. Marcum subsequently missed all of the 2009 season before returning to be the Blue Jays opening day starter in 2010. During the first half, Marcum cruised to a 3.44 ERA, but struggled in the second half. After the All-Star game, Marcum's ERA was more than a half run higher than prior to it. Many attributed it to his increased workload and shoulder fatigue after coming off the surgery. One closer look at the numbers revealed an increase in Marcum's strikeout rates, while decreasing the amount of walks he issued after the break. If anything, his peripherals would suggest he pitched a little better after the break last season.
To be successful in Milwaukee, Marcum will need to keep the ball on the ground more frequently. Prior to the injury, Marcum was able to induce groundballs better than 40% of the time in his career. In 2010, he saw that number drop to 38.4%. Not a huge dropoff, but something to look at in the future.
Many are hinging the success of this trade of if the Brewers are able to retain Marcum. Right now, Marcum is entering his second season of arbitration, meaning he'll hit the free agent market after the 2012 season. I'm personally very high on Marcum and think locking him up sooner than later is the correct route the Brewers should take. The closer Marcum comes to free agency, the more the Brewers are going to have to shell out to keep him. Coming off a serious arm injury, the risk does come high by doing this. However, having a full healthy season under him puts my mind at ease a bit. I also believe the injury could leave Marcum more willing to listen to extension offers and lock up his financial security for years to come. Word of out Milwaukee is the Brewers "think they have a chance to sign Marcum longterm," according to Ken Rosenthal.
On to Lawrie.
There is no question the Brewers parted with a valuable piece in this trade. Lawrie, 20, is one of, if not the Brewers top prospect. His major league service clock is yet to start ticking, giving him a full five or six seasons under team control. At AA Huntsville this season, the second baseman was able to post a pretty impressive .285/.346/.449 line in full time play. That equated to a very nice .361 wOBA. While Lawrie's offense seems to be progressing nicely, his glove work hasn't. There has long been questions on if Lawrie is too much of a liability to stay in the infield. Scouts have said it's an alarming problem that could easily land Lawrie in a corner outfield spot sooner than later. If that's the case, that really hurts Lawrie's value as slugging second basemen are much more difficult to find than a productive corner outfielder.
I'm not saying Lawrie wasn't a lot to give up, but I do like this trade for the Brewers. They landed a front line starting pitcher to help Yovani Gallardo atop the rotation. This year's playoffs are a perfect indication of just how important starting pitching is. By landing Marcum, the Brewers helped close the gap that they will need to overcome to compete in the National League. They may still be a pitcher away, but this is a step in the right direction.