1:50 AM Eastern
Full disclosure – I didn’t expect to be posting tonight. I figured I’d just fly into Orlando, check into my room in beautiful Downtown Disney and get a good night’s sleep before heading to the Swan And Dolphin tomorrow to begin coverage of the Winter Meetings.
Now, though, when I get to the meetings, there’s going to be a note on the board saying “Blue Jays and Brewers News Conference” scheduled for some time in the morning. The Jays have traded their Opening Day starter in 2010, Shaun Michal Marcum, to the Milwaukee Brewers straight up for young stud prospect Brett Lawrie.
Though I have a feeling this trade will garner all sorts of reaction from the Jays’ faithful fans, ranging from hugely positive to garment-rending negative, at the very least, this deal should dispel the notion that the Jays feel as though they’re one piece away from being contenders in the A.L. East and therefore will throw the farm at Kansas City to deal for Zack Greinke.
Trading Marcum is a surprise, but not a huge one. He made a tremendous impact this season after missing a year and a half recovering from Tommy John surgery. Marcum took a no-hitter into the 7th inning on Opening Day against the eventual A.L. Champs and wound up 13-8, 3.64 with a career-best 1.15 WHIP. He also set career highs in starts (31), innings pitched (195 1/3) and strikeouts (165), but not in walks and home runs allowed, which is pretty cool given the additional workload. He fielded his position like a champ – he’s the rare pitcher who is actually a fifth infielder and the Jays will miss that every fifth day, for sure. And he took on a position of leadership with the young rotation from day one of Spring Training.
Did Marcum HAVE to go? Were the Jays actively shopping him? Not at all. He was the anchor of a great young pitching staff that includes Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Brett Cecil and Kyle Drabek. He was their leader, inspiring them to each “pitch like a man”, but he is also going to be 29 years old next week, making him three years older than the next-oldest member of that rotation, even if you include Jesse Litsch and Marc Rzepczynski, his two likeliest replacements. Marcum will also be a free agent following the 2012 season.
I’ll tell you this – they are absolutely going to love Shaun Marcum in Milwaukee. He’ll pitch great, with that fearless attitude and incredible change-up, he’ll likely win a Gold Glove or three in the National League, and he immediately becomes one of the league’s best-hitting pitchers – right there with his new teammate, Yovani Gallardo.
So why did the Jays deal the leader of their young pitching staff? Well, age and service time definitely made it easier for them to make this kind of a move, but the true reason is the same reason Alex Anthopoulos has made most of his trades, like the deals for Morrow, Yunel Escobar and Anthony Gose – the chance to acquire stud talent. Young, controllable, elite-level talent. That’s what Brett Lawrie is, and the fact that he’s Canadian is nothing more than a lovely bonus.
The Jays were drooling over Lawrie back in 2008, when he was in the draft, and he went the pick before the Jays would have had the opportunity to grab him. Dismayed, they chose David Cooper (oops – for now), but Anthopoulos has been trying to reel Lawrie in ever since he got the job. This past season – as a 20 year-old – Lawrie handled the AA Southern League, hitting .285/.346/.451 with only eight home runs but 36 doubles and 16 triples. He also stole 30 bases. The numbers don’t explode off the page, it’s true. But then you remember that he was only 20 years old, and they do.
He’s been exclusively a second baseman in his career as a pro, even though there were ideas that he might catch in the majors. The Jays see him more as a third baseman of the future, which means (assuming Rajai Davis plays) the move of Jose Bautista to third base could just be a one-year thing.
Lawrie will go to Las Vegas this year, and see if he can tear it up there. Lesser talents have done exactly that.
This trade, which is most assuredly a step back in the hopes of moving a couple of steps forward, now gives the Jays young elite-level controllable position-player talent in Escobar and Snider at the major-league level, Gose and d’Arnaud in the low minors, and Hechevarria and Lawrie in the high minors. These guys – along with Romero, Morrow, Cecil, Drabek and Stewart – are the building blocks of the teams the Jays will have when they become perennial contenders. Shaun Marcum wasn’t going to be one of those guys, by the simple matter of his age.
I have a feeling that the fan reaction to this deal will be more negative than positive, but this is Alex Anthopoulos’ style – don’t get sucked in by an 85-win season in which SO much went right (Bautista, Buck, Alex Gonzalez, no pitching injuries), don’t feel that since 75 wins led to 85 then 85 will naturally lead to 95. Stay the course, continue to build with those studs who are so difficult to acquire and who wind up being worth bazillions of dollars when they hit free agency.
Will Lawrie achieve that potential? Will Gose? Maybe, maybe not, but both are big-time talents and worth the gambles. Marcum will most certainly be missed, and Morrow may not be ready to move up into the number-two spot in the rotation behind Romero, but it’s going to be very interesting to see the two of them, plus Cecil, Drabek and likely Litsch or Rzepczynski, and see how much the on-field results actually differ.
The meetings begin in the morning, and I’ll be doing a couple of live chats with you while I’m down here. Likely one Monday afternoon, though it’s going to be a busy morning with the trade announcement. We’ll keep you posted as plans get more clear.