Trade Analysis: Shaun Marcum for Brett Lawrie

One of the more overlooked trades of recent days is the Toronto Blue Jays sending starting pitcher Shaun Marcum to Milwaukee for second base prospect Brett Lawrie.

One-for-one deals are straightforward, right? Not so fast.

Few pitchers are as odd as Shaun Marcum.

The guy sits there throwing the ball up in the mid-80′s, and yet he consistently posts good numbers, throwing a ton of strikes and somehow finding a way to miss bats.

At 28 and without killer stuff, he certainly isn’t likely to get better from here on out, and Marcum’s about to get more expensive as well. With his marginal velocity, there’s always the chance he loses his edge one day and never finds it again, a la Barry Zito/Brian Lawrence/Dave Bush/Zach Duke/John Lannan, etc.

So there’s a bit of a dichotomy here. On one hand, Marcum’s injury history and marginal stuff belie an excellent track record of production which occasionally approaches borderline ace levels. On the other hand, those numbers belie the aforementioned stuff and injury concerns, making him a poorer bet than most pitchers to keep it up.

So how do you value him? There’s any number of ways to look at it.

And just to complicate things more, he’s being traded for Brett Lawrie, who’s got all sorts of question marks himself.

Here’s what we know about Lawrie: he hit .285/.346/.449 at age 20 in Double-A while playing bad defense at second base.

But there’s a lot we don’t know. For one, what’s his ultimate position? Second base? Third base? Corner outfield? Catcher? And what sort of defender will he be at the position he winds up playing? That has a huge impact on Lawrie’s future value.

What his offensive production means is another issue. It’s easy enough to look at a 20-year-old Double-A guy hitting, say, .325/.400/.550 and go, “Damn! Epic production and he’s young for the level!” and anoint the player a future superstar. But what do average-ish numbers for a young-for-his-levels player mean? Something decently good, obviously, but would we value Lawrie more if he spent the year a level lower and hit .325/.400/.550? He’s been pushed through the minors fast and done adequately offensively, but that makes comparing Lawrie to his own peers fairly difficult.

Overall, there are just too many questions surrounding Lawrie for him to be a bona fide, can’t miss prospect. Sure, the upside is there for him to be a .300 hitter with 20 homers at second, but he could also be a .260/.310/.410 left fielder, which might not even merit a bench job on some teams.

That makes Lawrie a more volatile and less valuable commodity than the established Marcum; however, the players’ current salaries and contracts reflect this. Marcum has nearly four years of service time, while Lawrie has yet to even see Triple-A, so Lawrie will cost less and be around for longer.

What does it all mean? Each team is taking a risk here, giving up a player whose career could go in nearly infinite directions for another. Marcum is the more valuable of the two players, but the salaries involved more or less cancel that out. Given the unpredictability of these two specific players, it’s impossible to call this one for either side, but it’ll be very interesting to see how this trade pans out in future years.

Topics: Brett Lawrie, Milwaukee Brewers, Shaun Marcum, Toronto Blue Jays

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  • http://jaysjournal.com Mat Germain

    Hey Nathaniel, enjoyed the article. I think you broke Marcum’s value and risk down extremely well, but that you missed the boat entirely on Brett Lawrie. If you watched him play for Canada, in clutch situations, you would have seen just how much he loves the spotlight and performs highly under pressure. His position “questions” only highlight just how versatile a player he is. We can say the same about Jose Bautista, will he play 3B or RF, but does that lower his value or heighten it? I go with the latter.

    By all standards and accounts, Lawrie is well within the top 50 prospects in all of baseball. If I had told you 2 years ago that the Jays could land a top 50 prospect in return for Shaun Marcum, you would have told me to go fly a kite. It wasn’t going to happen. Shaun had an awesome year and is loved by all Jays fans I know, but he’s a #3 pitcher who just got traded for what could become an all-star LF/RF/2B/3B/1B.

    Another point you missed completely is the following: If Brett Lawrie becomes a star in the same way that Justin Morneau has in Minnesota, he will be without a doub the most marketable player the Toronto Blue Jays have EVER had. The number of jerseys, coverage, and media attention he would create in Toronto is a massive asset that Rogers and the Jays would be able to exploit. He is the best Canadian baseball prospect out there, no doubt about it. Instead of watching him flourish elsewhere, as the Jays did with so many other Canadians, they finally understood the business side of it and stepped up to the plate. To us Jays fans, it’s a unanimous “it’s about time” feeling.

    Like I said, you got the Marcum part 100% correct, but I think that Lawrie was undersold quite a bit in this piece and should be recognized for the potential that Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, and so many other scouts say he has. There’s a reason the Brewers wouldn’t deal him for as long as they did and there’s a reason he cost the Jays Shaun Marcum – he’s just that good!

    Cheers,

    Mat Germain – JaysJournal

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