Carlos Marmol and the Cubs agreed to a one-year, $2.125MM contract last February as the reliever and club avoided a hearing in Marmol's first arbitration season. The deal gave Marmol almost four times what he earned in 2009, and he'll be up for another big raise this winter whether he and the Cubs work out another one-year deal or if they pursue a longer-term option.
Marmol took over as Chicago's closer midway through the 2009 season, but his control problems made some wonder whether Marmol could last in the role. While Marmol is still walking more batters than the Cubs would like (a 6.1 BB/9 rate), it's still an improvement over the 7.9 BB/9 rate that he posted last year. More importantly, Marmol has also improved his ERA, WHIP, hits/9 rate and K/BB ratio from 2009, and upped his already-impressive 11.3 K/9 rate last season to a whopping 15.9 K/9 in 2010. His 62 games finished are also the most in baseball.
Should the Cubs wish to pursue a one-year deal with Marmol again, Heath Bell's one-year, $4MM deal with the Padres last winter is a suitable model. Bell, like Marmol, was coming off his first season as his team's closer and delivered an All-Star performance. Bell's 2009 and Marmol's 2010 were pretty similarly impressive — Bell had the better K/BB ratio, BB/9 and WHIP, while Marmol has the superior K/9 rate, HR/9, hits/9, and has already thrown more innings. Bell did have the advantage of pitching at PETCO Park, so between that and inflation, Marmol has an argument that he should earn closer to $5MM than $4MM.
In terms of a multi-year option, Marmol and agent Barry Praver will look at Brian Wilson's two-year, $15MM extension with San Francisco as a starting point. While Wilson has certainly pitched well enough this season to lower some of the eyebrows that were raised when he signed that extension last winter, the Cubs may hesitate to commit that much money to Marmol given his still-present control issues. It should be noted, however, that even with Marmol's 2009 wildness, he still put up a 3.41 ERA and held opposing batters to a .170 average, so it's not like he pitched poorly. If Marmol's 2011 season is akin to his 2009, it would still be a campaign that the Cubs wouldn't feel sick about paying around $7.5MM to keep.
Given Marmol's high ceiling, the Cubs might be wise to shoot for an option-heavy contract similar to the one that their ex-closer Kevin Gregg received from the Blue Jays last winter. Gregg received $2.75MM for 2010, and the Jays can pick up a 2011 option for $4.5MM or an option for both 2011 and 2012 for a total of $8.75MM. Obviously Toronto was able to get such a team-friendly deal since Gregg struggled in 2009, but if the Cubs double the dollar amounts, Marmol might accept the cost-certainty. The last option year (that would theoretically cover Marmol's first free agent year) could be adjusted to a mutual option, giving Marmol the ability to walk away after 2012 if he thinks there's an eight-figure offer on the market. If Marmol keeps up his form from the last four seasons, such an offer would certainly exist.
Chicago already has approximately $103MM committed to next year's payroll, and that's not counting the pay bump that Geovany Soto (an extension candidate himself) will get in his first year of arbitration. Given the fungibility of relief pitching, the Cubs may lock up Marmol for next year and revisit his contract situation next offseason, thus taking the risk of having to pay more in 2012 for a pitcher who is on the cusp of being one of baseball's elite closers. Either that or a combination of the Wilson and Gregg contracts — a two-year, $15MM deal with a team option to buy out Marmol's first free agent year for $10MM.