With Cubs in need of lefties, I can’t help but look back at Sean Marshall

(Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /

Adding established arms to the back end of the bullpen – in particular, left-handers – sits atop the to-do list for Jed Hoyer and the Cubs when the lockout finally ends. They already boast a collection of raw, high-upside righties including Rowan Wick, Manuel Rodriguez and Codi Heuer, but really need some help from the left side.

When I think of left-handed relievers that stand out from my years rooting for the team, one man stands above the rest (literally and figuratively) in Sean Marshall, who spent six years in Chicago before Theo Epstein traded him to the division rival Cincinnati Reds ahead of the 2021 campaign.

Marshall was initially drafted in the sixth round of the 2003 draft – and made his big league debut less than three years later, getting the start against the Cardinals at Wrigley on April 9, 2006. Things didn’t go well for the left-hander, especially in an eventful first inning, but the bats did their part as Chicago came away with a win.

Most of us certainly don’t remember Marshall as a starting pitcher – which shouldn’t come as a surprise, really. In his nine-year MLB career, he made 396 appearances – and just 59 of those were starts, the majority of which came in his first two seasons with the Cubs.

From 2006 to 2007, the Richmond, VA native worked almost exclusively as a starter, accumulating a 4.83 ERA/5.14 FIP across 229 innings of work. He rarely missed bats, averaging just over five strikeouts per nine – and served up north of a hit per inning. Clearly, something wasn’t working here.

In 2008, he transitioned to the bullpen and, although he made a handful of starts, he found a great deal of success in relief. In 27 relief appearances, he carried a 3.42 ERA – a marked improvement from the 4.15 mark he owned in seven starts.

Over his final three seasons in Chicago, though, Marshall really stepped into his own (particularly in the last two years) – working to a 3.13 ERA/2.83 FIP over 213 appearances. The control woes that plagued him early on in his career leveled off and, by 2011, he was averaging north of nine strikeouts per nine with a 4.65 strikeout-to-walk ratio, to boot.

Cubs felt the impact of Sean Marshall for years after he was traded

He finished his career with the Reds – but there are all sorts of random Cubs ties that continue to link Marshall to his former team. At one point, he got the closer’s job in Cincinnati. But he really struggled and the ninth-inning duties were then bestowed upon 24-year-old Aroldis Chapman who, of course, played an integral role for the 2016 World Series champion Cubs.

When Epstein traded the big lefty to the Reds to begin with, one of the players who came back in the deal was southpaw Travis Wood who also went on to carve out his own role on the 2016 club – providing us all with plenty of shirtless memories in Grant Park that fall.

Now, Marshall is an analyst with the Marquee Sports Network. Hopefully, we get baseball back sooner rather than later and we get more of him on broadcasts here in 2022.