I can think of nothing more bold and arrogant than a player that declares that he is the reason his team wins. Baseball is a team sport, and many things go into the wins and losses of a sport that employs so many players on the field at once. To hear a player make the assumption that his mere presence suddenly boosts a team into a higher level of play or rank in the standings shows a complete lack of humility, a whole lot of cockiness and possibly a bit of insanity.
At first, I thought Washington Nationals starter Jason Marquis showed all three of those and more when he signed with the Nationals right after the Winter Meetings in 2009 and said he thought it was no coincidence that the teams he was on won. The audacity, I thought. The nerve. Who the heck did he think he was? Coming off from a rising Colorado Rockies team, it was easy to get your gander up and get that necessary narcissistic edge to make such a statement. Being on a team like the Nationals, on the other hand, should take him down a peg, especially when the cold, hard reality of the Nationals situation settles in. His statements rubbed me the wrong way, and I think it rubbed a lot of Natstown the wrong way too - in the beginning.
Sure enough, Marquis started the 2010 season off horribly, going 0-3 with a 20.52 ERA. When it was discovered he had bone chips in his elbow and he had to go under the knife, many began to write Marquis off as yet another failed Nats experiment in pitching.
Yet, Marquis came back in August of 2010 and began to show a glimmer of the pitcher he could be. He finished 2010 relatively strong. Fast forward past the offseason to Spring Training 2011, and Marquis seemed to be in every player's face: playing with them, joking with them, teaching them. There wasn't a day you didn't see him working with the younger pitchers on their technique or showing them what to do with a baseball bat at the plate. He even attempted to acclimate the Nationals' international players by hanging out with them and showing them the ropes. Players like Yunesky Maya and Chien-Ming Wang seemed to loosen up and become more relaxed during workouts when Marquis came over for a toss session.
Now, in the 2011 regular season, Marquis has begun to take his words and turn them into action. In five games, he has put together a 3-0 record with a 2.62 ERA, and he leads Nationals' pitchers in strikeouts with 24. He has also only walked five batters this year so far. On Friday he went toe-to-toe with Tim Lincecum of the defending World Champion San Francisco Giants and pitched a complete-game shutout of the Giants on the way to a 3-0 victory.
Marquis is beginning to make things interesting for the Nationals. His contract with the team is up at the end of the year, so that has started the usual banter about possibly trading him at the trade deadline for pieces. However, I am not too sure the Nationals should immediately go that route. The 31-year old still has plenty left in the tank, he possesses the veteran knowledge and experience that the Nationals Think Tank covets and he is producing, something that has rarely come together in a pitcher of his caliber for the Nats before.
The off-field problems with veteran pitcher Livan Hernandez might play some part in whether Marquis stays a National or not. Whether Hernandez is actually guilty of the accusations in the federal probe is something for another forum, but the Nationals have a serious consideration to make when it pertains to him. Guilty or not, the relations he has kept has made for a possible PR nightmare that I am sure both MLB and the Nationals want to avoid. If the Nationals decide to part ways with Hernandez one way or the other, they will need someone to take hold of the veteran-in-the-rotation role, especially in 2012 when young ace Stephen Strasburg possibly returns. Marquis could fill that role nicely.
Usually I am critical of how seldomly the organization puts their finger on the trigger during the trade deadline, but this time I hope GM Mike Rizzo stays back a bit and thinks about this option. Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Marquis, John Lannan, Ross Detwiler and maybe even Wang as possible rotation pieces in 2012? Not too shabby. There's a lot of youth in that possible rotation, but it is youth that will need an anchor. Marquis, with his piercing gaze, his undeniable desire and intense aggression on the mound, is an inspiration to a team that needs to be inspired from within.
Jason Marquis isn't just saying he belongs in Washington. He is proving it.