[This was originally written as a comment by one of our readers, Nate Carter, who writes under the name hotto4votto. I thought it would make an interesting new thread. Thanks to Nate for his thoughtful and extensive comment and giving us permission to use it this way. -- SPM]
While we have a forum to discuss past moves by Walt Jocketty, let’s discuss the Sean Marshall deal. We got Marshall, a reputable late-innings relief pitcher for Travis Wood, Dave Sappelt, and Ronald Torreyes. At the time, Marshall had one year left on his current deal. At the time we were going to use Marshall as the left-handed set up guy or closer (toying with the idea of making Chapman a starter and hadn’t signed Ryan Madson yet). At the time, Wood was a young starter who had shown flashes of real promise late in 2010 and then his numbers regressed some in 2011.
Soon after acquiring Marshall an extension was worked out and he was signed on for three more years. Madson went down in spring training, and Marshall assumed the closer role. He struggled a bit out of the gate, and since Aroldis Chapman was also in the bullpen the hometown fans clamored for the Cuban Missile to be the closer. Marshall then became a very well paid set up man. Still a very elite set up man, but still well paid for his services. Last year, Marshall was unable to remain healthy.
Meanwhile Wood made incremental improvements in 2012, and managed to pitch a respectable 156 innings (50 more than the previous year) while improving his ERA+, and K/BB rate. Then last year Wood was a 1st time All-Star, improving his ERA+ and WHIP while pitching a strong 200 innings. Sappelt was used as a fill in OF’er for the Cubs during 2012, and has since sort of faded out of the picture, playing only 31 games last year for them. Torreyes has yet to make it to the Majors.
Now, it’s typically not fair to only look at a trade in retrospect. Marshall’s injury this past year should not count against Jocketty in any way, and the other situational stuff that happened with Madson/Chapman has also played a part in how he was used. At the same time, even throwing out the superfluous parts (Sappelt and Torreyes) and what has happened since, it’s hard to look at the trade and feel that the Reds got the better end of the deal. The Reds essentially swapped a young LH starter for a LH set up man. In every universe the starter is more valuable. And, when we do look at it in hindsight, it gets worse because we traded away a young All-Star starter for a set up man.
In fairness, at the time it would have been hard to predict that Travis Wood would have become an All-Star. But I don’t think it was unreasonable to predict that he had a good chance to be a solid #4 at worst. I mean, this is the guy who went toe to toe with Roy Halladay and over 8 innings of no-hit ball. So even at the time of the trade we could ask, should we give up a future (floor) #4 for a potential closer? It goes back to the Reds overvaluing the closer role (and largely in overvaluing the set up role, as evidenced by contracts since given to Marshall and Jonathan Broxton and previously to Nick Massett). At the time Wood could have been viewed as surplus and the bullpen needed help. We had Cueto/Latos/Arroyo/Bailey locked into the top 4 spots and Leake/Wood/Chapman fighting for that last spot in the rotation.
Looking back, we probably already had our bullpen issue solved with what we had. Wood had finished two games the previous year, and if he wasn’t going to make the cut as a starter, then he certainly could have been used out of the pen as a LH. At the very worst he could have been depth in AAA as he still had an option. Or we could have stuck with the incumbent Mike Leake as the 5th starter and used both Wood and Aroldis Chapman in the bullpen. In that scenario we hold onto our young starting pitching assets, see which ones work out, and still solve our bullpen and a fraction of the cost.
While Marshall is a very good pitcher, and has been very effective for us when healthy, I still don’t see the value in tying up money in the bullpen for a set up role, when there are tons of free agent options out there every year that will be just as effective for much cheaper. There are not tons of cost effective young starters out there on free agent market, and if there were, the Reds have very little chance of signing them away from the bigger market/pocketbook teams.
It is what it is, but in the future, I think it would be good business practice to hang onto the more valuable assets (young starting pitching) especially young starting pitching that has proven itself somewhat at the MLB level, and fill in our bullpen from our minor league system or through free agency.