MILWAUKEE — There’s no telling what would have happened if elbow tightness hadn’t derailed Shaun Marcum for more than two months of his season.
His name had been brought up as a trade possibility — an expiring contract that could provide good value for a contender’s stretch run. He’s still being named as a waiver trade possibility. And for good reason: before Marcum’s elbow had shut him down briefly, he had allowed more than three earned runs in just one start in 2012 and only five total in his last three.
But as Marcum took the mound on Saturday against the Pirates, the first time since June 14, things were much different. He looked the same before an error derailed his fifth inning and resulted in four unearned runs. But the team around him and the time he had left with them seemed to have an expiration date.
When Ron Roenicke was asked by reporters in Pittsburgh whether a contender might come after Marcum before August 31 — the final date for adding pieces for a postseason roster — he was rather blunt.
“Why wouldn’t you?” he asked.
Both Marcum and Roenicke seemed to understand the crossroads that they’re at. Marcum will have one more start to audition for another team before September and plenty more to audition for a new free agent destination next season. And with that in mind, Roenicke knows how important his next starts are.
“It’s an important time for him to pitch well,” Roenicke told reporters. “He’s a free agent after the season. I think it’s a time when he needs to show people he can pitch. We all know he can pitch. I’ve watched him for a year and a half. The guy can pitch. But to stay healthy and do well so everybody else sees you, I think that’s big for him.”
And while Marcum’s inclusion in the rotation would be slightly counterintuitive to the Brewers’ youth movement, Marcum’s likely last month in Milwaukee would hopefully make the organization understand one important thing going forward: The Brewers need another experienced, top-flight option in the rotation — like Marcum — to have a chance at the playoffs in 2013.
A young rotation, while loaded with potential and optimism, often isn’t the best recipe for making the baseball postseason. It’s a mix of veterans and young talent that often results in the highest success rate in the rotation. And while Mike Fiers, Mark Rogers, and Tyler Thornburg, among others, have shown a lot this season, the Brewers may not be able to sustain all three of their learning curves next season.
It won’t likely be Marcum to provide that experience next season in Milwaukee, but if it’s not, that should undoubtedly be the Brewers’ main priority in free agency.
Because, while the Brewers gave up a dynamite prospect in Brett Lawrie to bring Marcum to Milwaukee, the right-hander was a key cog in getting the Brewers to the playoffs in 2011, as they could, for an entire season, trot out one of the NL’s best five-man rotations. Before sliding at the end of August and into September, Marcum had put together a stellar 11-3 as Milwaukee’s No. 3 guy, something most NL teams can’t claim on any given season.
The value of having that kind of consistency amidst an otherwise young rotation is a factor that could push the Brewers back into playoff contention next season. Without as many injuries, there’s no telling how differently things will go in 2013, but without replacing the talent that’s likely to be lost by Marcum leaving, the Brewers would put themselves in a worse position to start the season — not a recipe for a playoff berth.
So enjoy Shaun Marcum while you can, and hope that, in however long he has left with the Brewers — whether it be a single start or several — the organization realizes that it needs another starter of his caliber to reload, instead of rebuild, next season.