There are quite a few free agents that should be attractive to the Red Sox this off-season. Because of that, we'll take them one at a time, and profile those who Boston might be a match with. Just because they're covered here, though, doesn't mean they're endorsed: this is meant to be an exercise in finding out whether or not the players in question should be future Red Sox.
It's still early in the off-season, as the winter meetings haven't even started yet. Because of this, there is a gaping hole in the Red Sox' rotation at the moment. While it's one that will very likely be filled before spring training, by who is still up in the air. Options do exist, as very few starters have been taken off of the market at this point. Shaun Marcum is one o f those still available.
Marcum isn't the same kind of automatic add to the rotation that someone like Hiroki Kuroda was, or, for the right team, like a Zack Greinke will be. Marcum has had some injury trouble, missing all of 2009, throwing 124 innings in 2012, and with just one season of over 200 innings to his credit through his age-30 season. His successes will make him a popular target this off-season, but his in-plain-sight negatives will serve to keep him from being as popular as he could be otherwise.
Since 2007, Marcum has struck out 2.8 times as many batters as he's walked. While he doesn't punch out an excessive number of hitters, Marcum has been above-average in that regard for the duration of his career as a full-time starter. It's the lack of free passes that have made him productive, as Marcum has had a few seasons where he's kept his walk rate under three per nine. All of that living in the strike zone has resulted in a few homers too many, though, and that's part of what has kept Marcum as a well above-average arm, rather than something more than that.
Well, the combination of his homers and the health problems, anyway. He's averaged 166 innings per year since 2007, and that's giving him more credit than he might deserve, given he missed all of 2009 recovering from Tommy John surgery. Factoring in a big fat zero for that season puts his yearly average at 138 innings. While normally expecting a recurrence of elbow problems might be taking risk-aversion to an unnecessarily crazy place -- TJ does tend to heal what ails a pitcher these days -- Marcum has experienced elbow tightness since, justifying any hesitance.
Marcum missed 61 games and 71 days on the 60-day disabled list with Milwaukee this past season thanks to elbow tightness, and his time in spring training was cut short due to shoulder soreness in the same arm. He returned in late August and started eight more games before season's end. Marcum struck out 6.9 batters per nine in that stretch, with a 2.1 K/BB brought on by 15 walks in 41-plus innings. He also gave up six homers (1.3 per nine) in that time frame, bringing him to a 4.32 ERA to close out the year.
This in a vacuum wouldn't be that worrisome. Combine it with the previous Tommy John surgery, the current elbow tightness, and the fact he struggled down the stretch in 2011 (opponents hit .273/.321/.455 against Marcum in September, he struck out under six batters per nine in the season's last three months, and was lit up in three playoff starts) as he approached 200 innings for the first and only time in his career, and you wonder if Marcum's body is fit to handle the rigors of a full season.
Boston has enough question marks in their rotation already, between looking for a Jon Lester rebound season, hoping Clay Buchholz can repeat his May through October performance, seeing what Felix Doubront can do now that he has a year of big-league pitching under his belt, and whether or not John Lackey can produce going forward, after his own Tommy John procedure. Acquiring Marcum, given the elbow issues, the potential fatigue at the end of 2011, and Boston's questions already in place, would seem, well, silly for the Red Sox.
For the right price, there's room. But that right price involves incentives, and allows Boston to sign other pitchers who are worth using in case Marcum falls apart or goes down. That's an unlikely scenario given how many clubs could use pitching, who might view Marcum as a worthwhile high-risk, high-reward arm. With that in mind, Boston should pass on Marcum in the early going, and leave him be unless he turns out to be this year's Roy Oswalt, still looking to land a job as camps begin to open.