Is Shaun Marcum a Putz?

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According to several reports, Shaun Marcum will not be making his Mets debut this Sunday, due to a neck problem and/or a shoulder issue.

Is it me, or is this situation eerily familiar?

During a winter a few years back, the Mets packed up a small army and sent it in two directions: Cleveland and Seattle. In return, the Mets received a fifth outfielder, a 12th reliever, and a lights-out closer named J.J. Putz. Putz had a long history of chronic elbow problems, yet the Mets did the deal anyway, sending away, among others, Jason Vargas, Ezequiel Carrera, Joe Smith, and Maikel Cleto.

Despite Putz’s elbow issues — the history of which could be found in a few minutes on Google — the Mets did not ask that Putz take a physical prior to the trade. As it turned out, Putz hurt his elbow again soon after Opening Day (perhaps before).

Fast-forward to late January 2013, and we see the Mets make their biggest free-agent splash of the winter by signing Shaun Marcum. Granted, they didn’t give up any future 14-game winners, 19-year-old fireballers, reliable middle relievers, or backup center fielders. And this time, they probably made Marcum pass a physical before handing him a contract. But there’s something about Marcum’s arrival, past injury history, and current status that harken back to Putz.

Like Putz, Marcum’s injuries through the years are no secret. He had Tommy John surgery in 2008, and missed a significant portion of 2012 due to “elbow tightness” — which is a precursor to a UCL tear. In between, he’s had a rash of shoulder issues — something he’s described as “shoulder stiffness” and treated annually with a preseason cortisone shot. His chronic arm problems were so worrisome to the Brewers that they didn’t bother making him an offer to re-sign with them, even though they otherwise liked having him on the team and were in need of a veteran starter. It wasn’t guesswork, though — the Brewers had some research suggesting Marcum was on the verge of breaking down again.

Surely, the Mets were aware of the injury history and the research. Yet they made him their most expensive free-agent acquisition of the winter, positioning him as one of the key figures in what was supposed to be a strong starting rotation. You need go back only a month or so to the blogs and beat writers’ columns to read about how Marcum was going to be a big part of replacing the innings lost by the trade of R.A. Dickey.

And here we are, three games into the 2013 season, and Shaun Marcum is on the DL with not one but two injuries — that “stiff shoulder” and a mysterious neck problem that required “trigger point injections.” If and when Marcum’s pain in the neck subsides is mostly irrelevant, because there is still the unresolved shoulder problem, as well as the possibility of elbow tightness creeping up at any moment.

And those shoulder and elbow ailments WILL reappear sooner rather than later, because — like Johan Santana — Marcum has a basic flaw in his pitching mechanics that puts undue stress on both joints. He hasn’t changed his mechanics at any point since the TJ surgery, so it’s doubtful he’ll change them now. Instead, he’ll likely get more shots, painkillers, etc., and “pitch through the pain” until something breaks. Which it will. Or perhaps it already has. And he hasn’t even thrown an official pitch for the Mets yet; I’m not even sure if he ever will.

Color me the pessimist, but, to me, Marcum is looking like a Putz.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. Larry April 5, 2013 at 11:08 am
    Back on March 26th, before the news about Santana having to undergo another surgery came out and Marcum going on the DL, I posted a prediction on my FB page that Jeremy Hefner would win more games than those two combined!
  2. Dan April 5, 2013 at 11:12 am
    You forgot about Mike Carp being in this trade.
    • Joe Janish April 5, 2013 at 11:24 am
      He was part of the “among others” group, which also included Aaron Heilman and Endy Chavez.
  3. argonbunnies April 5, 2013 at 6:00 pm
    I was cautiously optimistic until the latest setback. “Nerve irritation” sounds really ominous, especially if the team is just shooting him full of drugs instead of diagnosing the source of the problem.

    I didn’t fault the Mets’ plan of having a year-long Niese-Harvery-Gee rotation and gambling that Wheeler would only need to replace one of Santana-Marcum. I still don’t fault it on the Marcum front — he was a risk, but also cheaper and a better pitcher than most other options. If I’m going to fault the Mets for anything, it’s for not keeping informed on Santana, and not realizing just how much of a crapshoot Johan was. With that knowledge, safer/additional rotation moves would have been wise.

    But who knows, maybe after surviving the AL, Laffey can thrive in the NL.

  4. argonbunnies April 5, 2013 at 6:02 pm
    I hate awaiting moderation. It’s probably “____shoot”, isn’t it?
  5. Izzy April 6, 2013 at 7:38 am
    When you have a front office that only cares about cheap, when you have a front office that refuses or doesn’t have the guts to take a big chance, you get what you get, crappy players who can’t perform. Why bother with these crap signees. Even if the big Met signs are healthy Marcum, Franky Francisco, are at best mediocrities. What’s the goal. Obviously not to try to win. You get what you ask for.
    Putz yeah he was a fail, but what did theylose, a bunch of guys who Sandy alderson would pick up because they are short on talent and get small paychecks. He was supposed to be a set up ma. Marcum was Alderson’s big sign. Two years in a row the genius fails. Three years in a row he fails to produce a product worth paying for. The fans spoke this week. The hole that Fred built is alraqdy a city morgue. Have Fred will lose.