One man’s bad break can become another man’s golden opportunity.
Such is the case for Shaun Marcum, trying to complete a two-year comeback to the big leagues. Entering spring training Marcum was likely on the outside looking in at the Tribe’s Opening Day 25-man roster, but now that Gavin Floyd has been sidelined with a broken arm, Marcum could be one of the pitchers in line to absorb that suddenly available starting rotation spot.
Cleveland opened spring training with four rotation spots spoken for with Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer and Floyd all promised roles. Danny Salazar, Zach McAllister, Josh Tomlin and T.J. House each were mentioned to be contenders for the final and fifth spot, with Marcum hardly receiving a mention. However, Floyd’s bad break has opened another available rotation spot and Marcum has out-pitched his competition so far this spring.
Marcum pitched three scoreless innings on Monday against the Kansas City Royals in his first Cactus League start of the spring. His three unblemished innings ran his early season performance to seven frames, with just one run allowed and six hits over three appearances. It’s a major landmark for Marcum, who has been battling thoracic outlet syndrome for the last two years. The condition, which led him to go 1-10, with a 5.29 ERA for the New York Mets in 2013, caused him to lose feeling in his throwing arm at times. A year ago Marcum was in Indians camp, but injuries kept him sidelined for most of the 2014 season and he was only able to make eight appearances at Triple-A Columbus. He wasn’t healthy enough to appear on the Clippers’ roster until early August.
“I feel like I’ve still got a lot left in my arm,” Marcum told the media after his start on Monday. “I definitely don’t want to end my career how it went in New York. I want to go out there and compete and help these guys get back to the playoffs.”
If Marcum does have something left in his arm, it could be just enough to pitch his way onto the Tribe’s 25-man roster. Now with two open spots on the roster, the competition has become a little more open. House has emerged as a steady and reliable starter that may assume the fourth spot in the rotation behind Kluber, Carrasco and Bauer. But the other contenders for the fifth spot have each faltered this spring, while Marcum has shined. Salazar and McAllister have each struggled in the first half of the spring and Tomlin has battled some minor shoulder stiffness.
And while Marcum has shined early, it isn’t so easy to hand the 33-year old starter the rotation spot. Marcum is in Indians camp on a minor league contract with an invitation to big league spring training. If he makes the 25-man roster, he’ll have to be added to the 40-man roster, meaning someone else will have to be subtracted. The Indians may not be ready to try and slide a player off their 40-man roster and through waivers while teams are setting their rosters.
But at 33, Marcum may not be so willing to go to the minor leagues and make healthy starts while waiting for his call. Marcum has an opt-out clause in his contract, allowing him to be released at the end of spring training if he wishes. Aaron Harang had a similar clause a year ago and used it to sign with the Atlanta Braves. Still, Marcum is not ruling out any possibility at this point.
“That’s something I’ll definitely have to talk over with my agent to see what’s going on,” Marcum said. “We’ll see what happens when we get there. This is definitely a first-class organization — probably one of the best organizations I’ve been in. It’s something I’d definitely consider.”
After the Indians lost out on Harang a year ago, and considering they’ve already invested a year of rehabilitation, they might be as quick to let another veteran leave the organization. If Cleveland feels Marcum is their fifth starter, they may be able to convince him to go to Columbus for the first three weeks and receive regular work in a rotation. The Indians only need a fifth starter twice in the first 18 days of the season. Marcum could make three starts in that time at Triple-A. Getting regular work, for a pitcher returning from injury, is a key to his long-term success.
If Marcum does not win the Tribe’s fifth starter spot, he’s pitched well enough to attract another team’s interest for sure. At this point, Marcum is pitching with intentions of pitching at the big league level. If it isn’t with the Indians, it will be somewhere.
For the Indians, if Marcum’s opportunity came elsewhere, that could be an unlucky break for the Tribe.
Photo: Chuck Crow/Cleveland Plain Dealer