Is a multiyear deal for Marmol a good idea?

Fresh off a historic 2010 season in which he posted an astounding 15.99 K/9 rate in 77 relief appearances, Carlos Marmol passed on the opportunity to settle for a one-year deal like the rest of his arb-eligible teammates, ostensibly to allow time for a multiyear contract agreement to come together.  The interest in such a deal appears to be mutual, as it’s been speculated all offseason that the Cubs have prioritized locking up Marmol for the next few years, and now that he’s officially filed for arbitration, those rumors are starting to heat up.

Generally speaking, I’m not a big fan of long term deals for relief pitchers; I think you’d have a hard time finding anyone who is these days.  It’s just become glaringly obvious over the years, even to a lot of casual baseball fans, that multiyear deals for relievers rarely work out for the club–they’re simply too volatile of assets to commit to over a number of years.  The reality is, over the course of 70-90 innings, a lot of wacky things can happen on a baseball field, which is why in any given year relievers are liable to do just about anything, Carlos Marmol being no exception.  You could argue that, relatively speaking, he’s been pretty consistent since breaking into the league, but consider his astronomical walk rate from 2009– his previously demonstrated propensity to issue walks notwithstanding, do you think anyone could have honestly guessed that Marmol would suddenly start walking nearly 8 batters per nine innings?

Now, Carlos managed to get his walk rate somewhat under control last year (6.03 BB/9) but still, this is the primary concern in making a long term commitment to him.  We’ve seen him lose the strike zone before, and if he does it again, the Cubs run the risk of being stuck with a really expensive setup man.  Even factoring in his improvement from last year, he has very little margin for error here.  If he takes even a small step back with his control, he could become a liability.

Is a multiyear deal for Marmol a good idea?

Up to this point though, Marmol has mostly avoided the dire consequences most pitchers with his erratic control are usually met with, and it’s pretty much understood why that’s been the case.  First, it’s no secret he’s one of the true strikeout artists in today’s game. Owner of a career 11.68 K/9 rate, Carlos misses bats with the absolute best of them (he set a career high in SwStr% last year at 14.4%)**, and when he does give up contact, its usually of the weak variety.  According to Fangraphs’ batted ball data, among pitchers who’ve thrown at least 200 innings since 2007, Marmol has allowed the second lowest LD% (also 14.4%), and, by a considerable margin, the lowest opponents’ batting average (.159).

** Since 2007, among pitchers with 200 innings, Michael Wuertz has the highest SwStr% at 16.1%.  I couldn’t give you one good reason why the Cubs ever got rid of him.

However, Carlos’ success in recent years has also been somewhat contingent on him excelling in areas that are, in sabermetric circles, believed to be mostly a function of luck, subject to a lot of variation from year-to-year.  Since settling in as a reliever in 2007, again using 200 innings as a parameter, he’s allowed the fourth lowest ball-in-play average (.257), and the sixth lowest HR/FB rate (5%) in all of baseball.  Some have argued that those numbers are due to regress in a big way eventually, but especially when you consider the company he keeps at the top of these lists– names like Rivera, Nathan, Rafael Soriano, Heath Bell, Hong-Chih Kuo, and a few other pretty good relievers–I don’t think we can just rule out the possibility that Marmol is capable of beating regression to the mean, at least to a certain extent.

That said, I’m still not sure it makes a lot of sense for the Cubs to go long term with Marmol right now.  I suppose he’s as deserving as about any reliever who really deserved their own multiyear deal, but I just don’t think this is a risk the Cubs have to take. Perhaps the Cubs, out of necessity, are trying to limit Marmol’s 2011 salary, and see a new multiyear deal as the only means to that end, but especially considering the amazing numbers he’d bring to the bargaining table, why should the Cubs be so intent on getting this done now?  If they wait a year, and count on his numbers regressing somewhat, couldn’t they possibly increase their leverage?  And assuming he puts together another good season, wouldn’t they like the extra year of data to help them make the best decision? read more about Gaza deal at

Maybe the Cubs see an extension as an inevitability, so they’d rather get it done sooner rather than later.  Again– I think Carlos may just be the rare reliever who actually deserves a multiyear deal.  But unless this is as much an effort to make this year’s budget as it is keeping Marmol around for the next three years, I’m just not sure why the Cubs would feel pressure to get a deal done right now.

Forget Vazquez– what about Webb?

After a few slow days for baseball news, offseason activity picked up again yesterday when Javier Vazquez officially agreed to a one-year $7MM deal with the Florida Marlins. Word is he turned down multiple two-year deals that would’ve paid him something in the neighborhood of $20MM; apparently he was intent on signing with the team closest to his home in Puerto Rico. While I doubt the Cubs were responsible for one of the multi-year offers he supposedly left on the table (even at $7MM he may not have fit the budget), it’s nice to see they had interest in a nice low-risk, high-reward proposition.

A couple weeks ago I wrote about the Cubs’ run prevention capabilities, and how his consistently above-average strikeout rates made Vazquez one of the only free agent starters who made sense for them given their collective defensive shortcomings. Based on that logic, Brandon Webb wouldn’t appear to be a great fit for the Cubs right now, but it’s hard not to get excited hearing they’re interested in the former Cy Young winner.

In all likelihood, the Cubs will probably field another poor defensive club next year, particularly in the infield. Hendry is reportedly targeting a strong defender to fill the void at first base–Carlos Pena is said to be the front office’s current favorite among free agent options– but short of replacing Aramis Ramirez at third, there’s only so much that can be done to address this problem. 21 year old Starlin Castro will probably still be a somewhat mistake-prone shortstop next year, Blake DeWitt doesn’t get any love from the advanced defensive metrics, and really, bringing in a defensive whiz at first would only have so much of an impact.learn more about Carlos Zambrano by clicking here

All this would seem to make Webb and his 64.2% career ground ball rate something of a mismatch for this team right now. However, after making just one start in the past two years as a result of an (evidently) serious shoulder injury, Webb is supposedly ready for action and will almost certainly have to settle for a one-year deal, perhaps with vesting options that would reward him for making a certain number of starts. Shoulder injuries often spell doom for pitchers, and the fact he missed all of the past two seasons tells you everything you need to know about the severity of his, but it’s tough to overstate how good this guy was before going down.

Forget Vazquez– what about Webb

From 2006-2008, Webb finished no worse than third in the Cy Young vote, bringing home the hardware in a 2006 campaign where he was worth 7 WAR according to FanGraphs. It’s unlikely he’ll ever recapture that kind of success in the future–almost nobody who suffers an injury like his ever does–but if he’s able to regain just some of his pre-surgery abilities, he’ll be worth every penny at whatever discount rate he ends signing for. And since he clearly doesn’t appear to have rushed through his rehabilitation, we shouldn’t rule out the possibility that he can have an immediate impact.

It isn’t every year that former Cy Young winners become available, and even if you think that’s irrelevant since Webb may very well be a different guy after his surgery, the opportunity to bring in a pitcher with his pedigree is an exciting proposition. The reality is, he could be viewed as something of an investment even if the Cubs do hope to get production out of him right away. They have the kind of depth in the rotation that would allow them to wait it out in case he isn’t ready to go on Opening Day, and even if his injury was so bad that he doesn’t make it all the way back until 2012, the reality is whichever team invests in him now will probably be interested in keeping him. Such a commitment would allow the Cubs to reconfigure their infield defense in the future if he ends up becoming a fixture in the rotation.

One other key consideration: previously armed with one of the nastiest sinkers you’ll ever see, Webb has never been dependent on big-time velocity to get people out. While averaging about 88-89 MPH on his fastball on a good day, he’s always been content to allow his defense to do most of the work while he forces hitters to pound the ball into the ground. It’s tough to say what kind of effect the operation may have on the depth and movement of his sinker, but if it only costs him velocity going forward, then there may be reason to be more optimistic about his chances to make it back than your average pitcher who needs a good fastball to have any kind of success.

Hendry hit the jackpot when he bought-low on a recuperating Ryan Dempster back in 2004, and he’s been the best pitcher on the Cubs for a few years now, their shoddy defense notwithstanding. Meanwhile, Cubs fans have seen enough of Chris Carpenter over the years to know that shoulder injuries don’t claim the careers of every pitcher who falls victim to one. Webb isn’t likely to cost any more than $3-4MM in 2010, and he has a chance to have twice the impact that Dempster has ultimately had in Chicago. I’ve argued that this team probably doesn’t need another starting pitcher, but at the right price, Brandon Webb would be an exception.