Jason Marquis Deal Shakes Up AL Central


No it doesn’t, of course it doesn’t.  This is no earth-shaking event, merely the next in an n-part series ‘Minor Moves in Minnesota’ following the Twins gradual and budget-conscious progression toward possible contention in 2012.  I’ve mentioned this a million times already, but I’ll say it again: what the Twins are doing isn’t an attempt to fix last year’s problems, they are trying to give themselves a solid enough team surrounding their underperforming veterans (Mauer, Morneau & Liriano) to contend if and only if those three return to form.  Their latest minor move was the signing of right-handed starter Jason Marquis to a one-year, $3 million deal last Thursday (which somehow escaped mention at MCB until now).

Jason Marquis is a ground ball pitcher, one who doesn’t throw particularly hard and walks too many considering his mediocre strikeout rates.  When he’s pitching well (as in Washington last year) he’s a bit above average, and keeps the ball in the park.  Ah, but when he’s not pitching well, he gives up an awful lot of home runs and might contend for Brad Penny’s honor of the worst qualifying starter in the majors.  The only things he has ever led the league in are losses, home runs allowed and earned runs allowed.  Marquis roughly matched his career averages last year splitting time between the Nationals and D’Backs with a 4.43 ERA, a 1.49 WHIP and a 1.77 K/BB ratio.  He also missed the last six weeks of the season with a broken leg.  He has played his entire career to this point in the National League, so it’s anyone’s guess how his 4.55 career ERA and homer and change per 9 will translate.  The question is, does any of it matter at all?

For one thing, the Twins already had at least 6 viable rotation options for 2012.  What’s more, all of those 6 options look at least comparable to Marquis, though he certainly outperformed some of them last year.  Brian Duensing was rather ineffective as a starter last year, and while you could chalk that up to a high BABIP you could just as easily chalk it up to an inability to get right-handers out.  Francisco Liriano and Scott Baker both spent some time on the DL last year.  Anthony Swarzak and Nick Blackburn are both similar pitchers to Marquis, at least as far as results go, but even with those two tentatively penciled into next year’s rotation the Twins management may have seen added rotation depth as a genuine necessity.  Perhaps they were scarred by Swarzak’s awful year and a half preceding 2011 more than they were encouraged by his effort in 2011.  And, of course, they might also be hoping that Marquis benefits from their infield defense.

This is the type of move that it’s difficult to analyze properly in terms of wins gained or wins given up.   The reason is that this move is more of an insurance policy than progress or regression.  At worst, the Twins have spent a scarce $3 million for nothing – because Marquis wouldn’t have been necessary independent of how well or how badly he might pitch, and now that he has been signed we won’t ever really know how the Twins would have fared without him.  At best, however, the Twins would have been really scraping the bottom of the barrel to find a fifth starter either by keeping a combustible Swarzak or Duensing in a rotation spot they had proved unable to handle or by throwing an undeserving youngster into the fire.  In that case, this could wind up providing the Twins with as much as 4 or 5 extra wins but in that case would even 4 more wins keep the Twins in contention?

For my two cents, although this is a fair price and likely the best pitching that $3 million will buy on the open market, it doesn’t look like the best use of $3 million for a Minnesota team that is trying to fit into a very strict budget.  The Twins claim they have a million or two to spare for another reliever, but their bullpen has more than one hole to fill.  I would guess – provided that Liriano and Baker are healthy – the Marquis signing winds up pushing Swarzak back into the bullpen so in a sense it does provide an additional arm to call upon.  But… Swarzak is could arguably be a better starter than Marquis (due to better control) but not an especially impressive reliever.  One would hope that $3 million could have gotten them quite a solid 7th inning option, though perhaps they’re none too excited about the guys remaining on the market…  I thought the Carroll, Doumit & Willingham deals were big positives for the Twins (while resigning Capps was purely lateral) but this doesn’t seem like an appropriate use of the Twins funds.