It looks inevitable that Jason Marquis will be a Twin next season. I bashed this move yesterday, and I stand by that bashing. That said, one of my goals as a writer for Puckett’s Pond is to provide a balanced, even-handed look at the Twins whenever I can. Last week, after I applauded the Josh Willingham deal, I played Devil’s Advocate and wrote an article about the negative side of the deal. Fair is fair, so I am going to write about the bright side of the Marquis deal now. We’ll call this approach the “Angel’s Advocate.”
First, the better angels of our nature would like to point out that Marquis is a playoff good luck charm. Marquis’ teams have an uncanny tendency to make the playoffs. In fact, he’s been on a playoff team in 11 of his 12 seasons, which is way too much to be a coincidence. He came up with the Braves at the tail end of their amazing playoff streak, and enjoyed postseason runs from 2000 through 2003. In 2004, the Braves traded him to St. Louis. Marquis went on to visit the World Series twice in three years, including the 2006 Series that the Cardinals won. In 2007, he jumped to the Chicago Cubs, who had finished last place the year before. They ended up winning the division with an 85-77 record, then an even better 97-64 mark in 2008. He left Chicago for Colorado in 2009, and his 15 win campaign helped the Rox to a Wild Card berth. The 2010 Nationals were the only Marquis team that failed to make the playoffs. He started 2011 with the Nats, but was traded midseason to the Diamondbacks, another Worst-to-First team. Can the Twins be the next to make that jump with Marquis on the staff? True, he’s 0-2 with a 4.56 ERA in 11 postseason games, but at this point the Twins would probably be happy with just getting back to the playoffs.
Though he was rarely one of the core players on those playoff squads, Marquis has had some good seasons in the past. The best was back in 2004, when he had a nifty 3.71 ERA, won 15 games, and struck out 138 hitters. Those aren’t ace numbers, but they’re solid middle-rotation numbers to be sure. More recently, Marquis managed 15 wins and a 4.04 ERA for the 2009 Rockies. A 4.04 ERA at Coors Field is pretty noteworthy, and at least one team (the Nationals) was impressed enough by that performance to sign Marquis to a $15 million contract. Measured against that contract, the Twins are getting a pretty good deal at $3 million for one season. Marquis slumped over the two year life of the last deal, but that slump can largely be attributed to a 2010 elbow injury. Before that injury, he was very durable – he made 28 or more starts in six consecutive seasons from 2004 through 2009.
Durability aside, any change to the starting rotation is probably an improvement. The 2011 Twins rotation was about as good as the 2011 Vikings secondary, aside from the criminal charges. The competent players were injured most of the season, and the guys who filled in were awful. Having Marquis on the mound every fifth day means that either Nick Blackburn or Brian Duensing won’t be starting. And if Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano are healthy, the rotation can still be pretty good with Marquis mopping up innings behind them.
It looks like the Twins are still another player or two away from that goal, but the good news is that Marquis doesn’t prevent them from acquiring those players. After paying Marquis $3 million, the Twins might still have some flexibility to add more players. If they had paid for an actual good pitcher like Edwin Jackson, they would probably be done spending this offseason. Despite all evidence to the contrary, I still hold out hope that the Twins will still pursue Jackson (hey, it’s Christmas time; we can dream). A rotation of Baker, Pavano, Liriano, Jackson, and Marquis looks very good on paper.
Finally, there is a positive precedent for this kind of move. Carl Pavano is a strikeout-averse, groundball pitcher, and his time with the Twins has been largely successful. Pavano did quite well in 2010, when J.J. Hardy and Orlando Hudson were vacuuming up grounders behind him. Even in 2011, when the Twins’ infield defense was a Chernobyl-level disaster, Pavano managed to eat up innings and keep the team in the game most of the time. If Jamey Carroll acquits himself well at shortstop, and if the Twins come up with some sort of defensive solution at second base, a 4.00 to 4.50 ERA isn’t out of the question for Marquis in 2012.
That still won’t win him any awards, of course. But like it or not, Marquis is a Twin now, so we Twins fans will have to start rooting for him. Better get used to it!