Over the weekend the Blue Jays made the latest in a series of deals aimed at building a championship caliber club a few years down the road. This one saw the Jays second best starting pitcher from 2010, Shaun Marcum, head to Milwaukee in return for top prospect Brett Lawrie. Unlike last off-season's Roy Halladay trade, Marcum was dealt despite two remaining years of arbitration eligibility. The Jays were at no risk of losing Marcum until at least 2013 and after missing all of 2009 with an injury and making just 850,000 dollars this season he would not of been expensive to keep around.
With no imminent threat of him leaving or becoming too expensive there are still several reasons why such a player would be parted with. Perhaps most importantly was the fact Marcum missed all of 2009 after having Tommy John surgery and came back and pitched 195 innings over 31 starts in 2010. Going from zero big league innings one year to 195 the next is a massive jump and there had to be some concern on the part of Blue Jays GM, Alex Anthopoulos, if he could hold up enough to take the ball another 31 times in 2011.
The Blue Jays strong pitching left Anthopoulos with the option of foregoing all that risk because he has enough healthy, young, arms to absorb Marcum's loss of production. The Milwaukee Brewers reside in a completely different universe when it comes to starting pitching depth making them an ideal partner for the Jays to work with. The Brewers almost have to take a risk like this with little depth behind Yovani Gallardo and a lack of funds to chase after the likes of Cliff Lee in free agency.
And Marcum didn't just comeback and survive 31 starts, he put together a fabulous campaign that finished up with a 3.64 ERA, 3.74 FIP and career bests in both his strikeout and walk rates. And a healthy Marcum certainly could repeat those numbers, despite being the veteran of the Blue Jays starting rotation he'll still be just 29 on Opening Day 2011. The possibility of a few seasons like 2010 from Marcum was enough for the Brewers to depart with top prospect, Brett Lawrie.
The loss of Marcum leaves Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow and Brett Cecil as the front men for the Blue Jays young and talented starting rotation. Romero now becomes the senior member of the staff at the ripe old Opening Day age of 26. That could be cause for concern as younger pitchers are routinely held to pitch counts, innings limits, extra time off between starts and extra caution with arm injuries.
Now more so than ever with new manager John Farrell on board who came over from a Red Sox team that went to great lengths to protect it's pitchers. It was talked about after Clay Bucholz's no-hitter in 2007 that he was going to be pulled, no-hitter in tact or not, if he hit his pitch count limit. With that in mind the Jays may want to bring a veteran starter to chew up some innings at the back of the rotation or at the least carry a true swing man able to switch from the 'pen to the rotation when needed. Farrell's Red Sox teams, despite their massive payroll, always like to have someone like a Tim Wakefield or Julian Tavarez around to soak up some innings in spot starts and take the occasional "one for the team" pounding for the sake of the team's other more valuable arms.
Getting back to Anthopoulos' latest prospect grab, Brett Lawrie has the makings of a future star. He did more than hold his own as a 20 year-old in Double-A hitting .285 with a .164 isolated power and drawing a walk 7.7 percent of the time. The power wasn't overwhelming but drawing an average amount of walks and hitting for a solid average when facing Double-A pitching at such a young age bodes well for his future. He currently plays second but as with many young players a move to another position could be in his future. A move to third would open the clearest path to Toronto if his defense at second doesn't figure to make the grade.
As with the Brett Wallace for Anthony Gose deal back in July, Anthopoulos looks very comfortable giving up near term production for long term, hopefully, superior production a little more ways into the future. Lawrie joins a group of positional prospects that continues to get deeper and more talented seemingly every couple of months since Anthopoulos has been at the helm. As with most of his deals only time will tell what exactly Anthopoulos is building this team into. In the meantime, it's hard not to be impressed with the young talent he's collected as baseball as a whole shifts evermore to valuing these types of players more than ever before.