Reds Re-sign Sean Marshall

I’m going to take a brief break from my 2012 team previews to take a quick look at the 3 year contract extension that Sean Marshall signed today with the Reds for $16.5 million. Over the last two seasons Sean Marshall has been worth 5 fWAR, (4.4 rWAR)which is first among all relief pitchers. The relief pitcher with the second most WAR over those two years is Jonathon Papelbon, who the Phillies signed to a 4 year deal this offseason worth $50 million. Marshall’s FIP ranks 3rd of all relievers with at least 80 IP over the last two seasons, behind only Craig Kimbrel and Kenley Jansen. For all intents and purposes, Sean Marshall is probably one of the 5 best relief pitchers in baseball right now, and likely the top left hander. The Reds acquired him this offseason from the Cubs for Travis Wood, who took a bit of a step backwards last year after a solid rookie season. Even with that step back, I still think Travis Wood could turn out to be a pretty solid #3 starter in the majors, so I wasn’t a huge fan of the deal from the Reds’ point of view as Sean Marshall was going to be a free agent at the end of the 2012 season. This extension changes my mind on that deal.

Marshall is now signed for 4 more years at a total of $19.6 million, which is an average annual value of $4.9 million. If you play into the “$5 million/WAR cost-of-signing-free-agents thinking,” Marshall will have to provide just under 1 WAR/ season over the next 4 years to be worth the total value of the deal (or just over 1 WAR/season if you only include the 3 years of the extension). He was worth 5 fWAR over the last two seasons alone, so that’s not a huge stretch. Sure, relief pitchers can have wild swings in effectiveness from season to season, but Marshall’s peripherals back up his performance. He has struck out more than a batter/inning while walking about 2.5/9 since becoming a full-time reliever, and while his miniscule HR/9 rate over the last 2 seasons may increase a bit, he should still be very effective over the next few seasons. And with Ryan Madson only signed to a one year deal, the opportunity may arise for Marshall to step into the closer role starting in 2012. Since Marshall’s a lefty, some may have reservations about making him the closer, but his career splits show that he’s not just a lefty specialist. Over the last two seasons, Marshall has been dominant against left handed hitters, with 11.3 K/9, 1.8 BB/9 and a 1.75 FIP over 54 1/3 innings. He hasn’t been much worse against right handers however, with 9.5 K/9, 2.9 BB/9 and a 2.24 FIP over 95 1/3 innings. If Marshall is moved to the closer role, and is able to keep up his high level of performance, he could turn out to be quite the bargain for the Reds, judging by the premium that is placed on “proven” closers in the free-agent market. Besides Papelbon, Heath Bell also got substantially more guaranteed money this offseason, with worse stats than Marshall, except for his save totals.

Say what you will about guaranteed money for relief pitchers, but Sean Marshall has shown that he is one of the better relief pitchers in baseball over the last two seasons, and the Reds were able to lock him up to a 3 year extension on quite favorable terms. There’s a very good chance of Marshall providing surplus value for the Reds over the life of his contract extension, and he could be turned into the team’s closer starting in 2013, which would up his value significantly in the free agent market. A very good signing for the Reds.

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