Just a day after the Indians signed their new closer, John Axford, they added a little starting pitching depth. Shaun Marcum (former Mets, Brewers and Blue Jays starter) has signed a minor league deal with a invite to Major League camp with the Indians for 2014. If he is added to the 40 man Major League roster, he is slated to make $1M, but also has an additional $3M available in performance incentives. The Indians are fairly confident in their top four starters, Justin Masterson, Corey Kluber, Zach McAllister and Danny Salazar, but Marcum will be immediately thrown into the fray for fifth starter. He will be competing with Trevor Bauer, Josh Tomlin and Carlos Carrasco for that role as of right now.
Last season, Marcum signed a one year deal with the Mets after pitching 44 games during the previous two years with Milwaukee. He was not the durable every five day guy they were expecting as a pinched nerve forced him to start the season late before a shoulder injury ultimately ended his year early. In the end, he threw just 78 innings and allowed 46 earned runs (5.29 ERA). Prior to this injury laden season, Marcum had carried an ERA under 3.71 for four straight seasons and averaged 168 innings per season. His career has shown how quickly a pitcher can go from the top to the bottom after earning $7.725M in his final year of arbitration (2012) to being forced to sign a minor league deal this year.
This deal is similar to the one that brough Scott Kazmir and Daisuke Matsuzaka in prior to last season. All three pitchers dealt with injuries and were entering into their later years, although Marcum is slightly older than Kazmir, going into his age 32 season in 2014. This seems to be the new strategy of the Indians, to grab up unwanted players that used to be great in hopes that the results of the most recent season are the outlier. Last season the Indians went all in with this strategy making large use of Ryan Raburn, Jason Giambi, Kazmir and Mark Reynolds. In the end, Raburn and Kazmir exceeded expectations while Giambi and Reynolds both fell far below.
It is hard to know what to expect from Marcum. If he still has issues with his neck or shoulder, the deal could be a bust very quickly, although there is little at risk with just a minor league deal. There is some expectation that he may bounce back to 2011 form in the all time favorite stat, batting average on balls in play. Last season, Marcum unsurprisingly saw his skyrocket (.331 in 2013 after a .277 career average). Since fluctuation in this stat is mostly based on luck, there is good reason to believe Marcum will go back to his average. Making exceptions for age and excluding the risk of injury, Marcum could be expected to hold and ERA in the mid fours and strike out 7.5 batters per nine innings through 150 innings. This is exactly the type of performance the Indians would find acceptable from a fifth starter. Of course, again, this is assuming he is injury free and his BABIP drops back to his career average.
This seems like another smart signing by Chris Antonetti and the Indians front office as it has the possibility of working out very well and fixing a hole in the Indians roster with very little real risk to the team. If injuries are an issue again (Marcum also missed all of 2009 due to injury), they will only be out the cost of a minor league contract. If he really doesn't have it any more and starts the season with an ERA around 7.00 for the first month, there are three easy replacements in Bauer, Carrasco and Tomlin, again with little total cost. Finally, he could be a serviceable innings eater, providing depth on the roster that is always necessary during the regular season. In 2013, the Indians used nine different starters and they should be expected to use near that amount next year as well. Marcum will be one of those starters.