Jon Morosi of FoxSports.com reported via Twitter on Tuesday that the Twins have "checked in" on right-handed pitcher Shaun Marcum. This isn't really noteworthy, since Terry Ryan has already told reporters that he's been in contact with the agents for every free agent starter, but Marcum's name in particular is an interesting one.
Most of the pitchers that the Twins have been specifically connected to thus far – names like Joe Blanton, Brett Myers and John Lannan – are the usual suspects: bargain bin hurlers with middle-of-the-rotation upside and out-of-the-rotation downside. (Of course, "bargain bin" might be a misnomer in this market, even if it includes names like those.)
But of course, if they want to even feign contention next year, the Twins are going to need to land at least one guy who could conceivably perform at the level of a No. 1 or No. 2 above Scott Diamond. And given the need to fill multiple rotation spots, they're going to have to find a way to do it without coughing up the vast majority of available funds on one player.
So it is easy to see why Ryan might view someone like Marcum as his best bet to land a potential high-end guy, especially with Dan Haren now off the table after signing a one-year, $13 million deal with Washington. Haren was available at a relatively low guaranteed sum due to concerns about the condition of his arm, and the same will likely be true for Marcum. He missed about two months this season due to elbow soreness, which has been a problem for him in the past. (He missed the 2009 season due to Tommy John surgery.)
Marcum pitched very well around that injury, turning in a 3.77 ERA, 1.27 WHIP and 109-to-41 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 124 innings. In the prior two seasons, he had totaled about 200 innings each with a 3.59 ERA and 1.15 WHIP overall. Since his surgery, he's been consistently effective on the mound. He strikes people out at a solid rate, throws it in the zone and is quite tough to hit (.241 career OBA).
Based on the numbers Marcum looks like a slam-dunk, but that vague elbow tightness from this past summer is concerning, especially for a club that has seen no shortage of arm injuries and is looking for reliability above all else in its additions to the rotation.
Of course, the elbow issue could also be a blessing in disguise, because it might be just enough to scare away contending teams from matching a high offer. If the Twins are able to sign Marcum and he stays healthy, he's a legitimate centerpiece to the rotation.
Spending fairly big bucks on that gamble is… well, a gamble. But in this environment, what isn't?