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.

Tags: Brett Lawrie Milwaukee Brewers Shaun Marcum Toronto Blue Jays

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