Credit the Milwaukee Brewers and general manager Doug Melvin. On Monday, they picked up a bargain-priced (arbitration eligible after earning $850,000 last season) middle-of-the-rotation starter and greatly helped his fantasy prospects in the process. Right-hander Shaun Marcum, acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays for second-base prospect Brett Lawrie, should immediately slide in as a No. 2/3 starter, behind Yovani Gallardo and possibly Randy Wolf, and immediately help a rotation that posted a 4.65 ERA, fourth-worst in baseball, in 2010.
Not to discount the Blue Jays' side of the deal; Lawrie is one of the top second-base prospects in baseball and has a tremendous combination of power and speed. Jason Grey addresses Lawrie's potential with the Toronto Blue Jays, but from the Brewers' perspective dealing Lawrie makes sense, being that the team already has Rickie Weeks at second.
Getting out of the American League East could boost Marcum's stock to the point at which he'll more than justify the price tag. In his return from Tommy John surgery, Marcum set career highs in starts (31), strikeouts per nine innings (7.60) and walks per nine (1.98), not to mention turned in a 3.64 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in a division in which three teams won at least 89 games and two at least 95, despite not pitching for any of them. Breaking down the stats tells quite a story. Marcum had a 1-6 record, 5.64 ERA and 1.29 WHIP in 10 starts against the Tampa Bay Rays, Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees but was 12-2 with a 2.74 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in 21 starts against everyone else. Unfortunately, the Brewers face all three teams during interleague play in 2011, but at most that still means three starts against them total, all in mid-to-late June. Still, look at the runs-per-game differentials: AL East teams averaged 4.75 runs per game in 2010, tops of the six divisions, while National League Central teams averaged 4.28, second-worst.
Health is the primary question with Marcum. Besides the surgery, he spent a brief stint on the disabled list last July with elbow issues and dealt with blisters around the same time. If healthy, he could actually improve on his No. 27 Player Rater ranking among starting pitchers. He probably won't be drafted that high, falling closer to the back of the top 40, but considering his per-start upside he's well worth a look in the later rounds.
Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com and a two-time champion of the League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR) experts league. You can e-mail him here, or follow him on Twitter @SultanofStat.