Pitchers and catchers began to report to camps last week, signifying that baseball is close to resuming. Two of the pitchers that reported to camp — Matt Garza and Shaun Marcum — are currently seeking contract extensions from their respective teams. Garza put together the best year of his career in his first season with the Cubs, while Marcum helped lead the Brewers back to the playoffs in his first season with the team.
Despite their opposite approaches — Garza with the mid-90s heat and Marcum with the low-80s changeup — this pair of NL Central pitchers has performed similarly over the last two seasons. But while their numbers are almost identical since 2010 and they aren’t too far apart in age, the Cubs and Brewers should approach extension discussions differently.
Garza represents far less of a risk than Marcum, in both performance and health, and is a no-brainer extension candidate. The Brewers, on the other hand, should really wait it out with Marcum to confirm he’s healthy before even considering an extension. And even at that point it’s unclear if they have enough money to extend him and focus most of their efforts and resources on ensuring Zack Greinke stays.
The Brewers may actually be better suited to let Marcum walk into a crowded free agent class than to lock him up right now.
Obviously the Cubs decision is mutually exclusive to the Brewers decision — one isn’t based on the other — but it will be interesting to see how the teams approach extension negotiations given Garza’s and Marcum’s similar production. Since 2010, here are their numbers, side by side:
Garza: 402.2 IP, 7.7 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 40% GB, 3.62 ERA, 3.70 FIP, 6.6 WAR
Marcum: 396.0 IP, 7.3 K/9, 2.3 BB/9, 38% GB, 3.59 ERA, 3.73 FIP, 6.3 WAR
Doesn’t get much closer than that, but what the aggregate numbers hide is that Garza took a massive step forward last season, completely changing his approach and becoming a much filthier pitcher. Marcum, meanwhile, struggled down the stretch in both seasons and dealt with injuries as well. While he has thrown 195 and 200 innings, respectively, in his two years after undergoing Tommy John Surgery, there are durability concerns in his direction. Taken on the whole, his 2010-11 seasons were very solid, but there was certainly some cause for concern each year, to the point that a team might want to wait as long as it possibly can before doling out a lucrative contract extension.
The other major difference between the two situations is their current contract statuses. Garza agreed to a one-year, $9.5 million deal to avoid arbitration in his third year of eligibility. He has another year of arb-eligibility as a Super-2 and the Cubs would buy that out at a higher price for the right to his first few years of free agency. At 28 years old, he is likely in the prime of his career and figures to pitch about as well as Matt Cain, an impending free agent who will sign a far more lucrative deal.
Marcum avoided arbitration in his final year of eligibility, signing for $7.725 million. As an impending free agent in a very crowded class of starting pitchers, it’s entirely possible that the Brewers could re-sign him after the season for less money than an extension negotiated right now, or replace him with a similarly talented pitcher for less money.
Aside from Cain and Greinke, Cole Hamels, Edwin Jackson, Brandon McCarthy and Anibal Sanchez are all set to hit the market, and it’s possible that pitchers like Tim Hudson, Brett Myers and Gavin Floyd could become available if their club options are declined. Marcum fits somewhere in the middle of that group, but the Brewers will have their hands full in keeping Greinke around. The Cubs were already going to keep Garza through next season, so an extension was a foregone conclusion.
The Brewers may not actually be sure how to handle Marcum, as they aren’t typically big spenders, really need to focus on retaining Greinke, and may not have enough resources to keep both in the same rotation. And realistically, all of their rotation efforts this year should be focused on keeping Greinke, the better and younger pitcher who is more likely to remain among the elite throughout the life of the deal. Marcum isn’t such a slam dunk extension candidate that the Brewers are really making a risky decision by not negotiating right now. He’s a nice pitcher to have in the rotation but not a front line starter worth stressing over. Waiting is the right call here.