Around the NL East: Marlins Acquire Carlos Zambrano


The Marlins continued their dramatic organizational makeover yesterday. First, the team changed it’s name – Florida to Miami – and it’s uniform and logo. They brought in Ozzie Guillen to manage the team on a day-to-day basis. Then they dove head first into the free agent market, signing left-hander Mark Buehrle and shortstop Jose Reyes, while making a strong push for first baseman Albert Pujols and left-hander C.J. Wilson. Now, it would seem they’ve acquired right-hander Carlos Zambrano from the Chicago Cubs. All in anticipation of a new stadium which opens in April. The Nationals will first visit the new park in late May.

Now Zambrano’s story is one that most are likely familiar with at this point. But, for those that may not, we’ll recap the highlights. He’s struggled on the mound over the past two seasons and those struggles have spilled into the clubhouse. He’s had repeated incidents with teammates and members of the organization, ultimately leading up to the team suspending him in early August for 30 days. When he returned in September he failed to appear in any games.

It has seemed for awhile that Zambrano’s days in Chicago were over – as they probably should be. The organization didn’t seem to want him there any longer, essentially they had tired of his antics and no longer had the ability to remain patient with his on field performance. Zambrano no longer seemed to want to be there, despite stating earlier in his career that he hoped to remain a Cub as it was the only organization he had ever known. A “change in scenery” seemed like it would be beneficial for both sides.

With Miami, Zambrano will likely slide into the back of the starting rotation – behind Buehrle, Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, and Anibal Sanchez. He won’t be expected to be the anchor of the rotation, like he was for much of his Chicago career, and it’s possible that change in pressure may actually benefit him on the mound. Zambrano and Guillen also have a long standing friendship which is likely a significant factor in why Miami made such an acquisition.

In late September, Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Sun Times first speculated on a possible Zambrano-to-Miami move, after Guillen had formally been named the Marlins new manager. His statement was simple, but ultimately right on the money.

"Perhaps the only positive of the night for the Cubs was White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen leaving to obstensibly take the same job in Florida, which means the Cubs have a ready suitor to take Carlos Zambrano off their hands this offseason."

Sullivan’s speculation seemed to be right on, in my estimation. It seemed obvious the he and Chicago needed to part ways. All indications seemed to point to Miami making some big changes to their roster this offseason. Guillen appeared to be the only person who could keep him in check. It just seemed like a good fit.

I hadn’t yet joined DoD, but I did write up some thoughts on the idea at the time over at Blogging From The Bleachers. Ultimately I chose to agree with Sullivan’s speculation, though I took the idea one step further.

"It has long been believed that one of the focuses the Marlins will place on the upcoming offseason will be on finding another starting pitcher to bolster the rotation. While Zambrano fits that need, it does remain to be seen exactly how effective he can be over the course of a full game. Over the past three seasons, Zambrano has appeared in 88 games (72 starts) and pitched a total of 444.2 innings. That’s an average of 148 innings per season and just 5 innings per start. Once considered a workhorse who could pitch deep into games, Zambrano just simply isn’t the pitcher he was a few seasons ago and ultimately, not the best starting option that the Marlins – or any other team – could pursue this winter."

The rotation is likely where Zambrano does belong, though I don’t know how high the expectations can really be for him in 2012. He was once a great pitcher, winning 16+ games three times in his career (2004:16, 2006:16, 2007:18) while averaging an ERA in the mid-3.00s and close to 200 innings a season. In 2011 he pitched in 24 games totaling 145.2 innings. He went 9-7 with a 4.82 ERA. Zambrano is owed $18 Million for the 2012 season, but by all accounts the Cubs will be paying most of it. Miami will only be on the hook for $2.5 Million.

In return, Chicago will only receive right-hander Chris Volstad. The former 1st Round draft pick went 5-13 with a 4.89 ERA in 29 starts (165.2 IP) this past season. In 103 career appearances (102 starts) he’s compiled a 32-39 record with a 4.59 ERA and 1.409 WHIP. There was some belief that the Marlins may non-tender him in early December, rather than paying him an estimated $2.6 Million for 2012. The team elected to give him a deal but there remained speculation that they were still in search of additional starting pitching.

Volstad will be under team control through the 2014 season, giving the Cubs a relatively affordable option moving forward – something that fits within their rebuilding plans. He’s struggled in the Majors since making his debut in 2008 but he could still develop into a solid, though not spectacular, starting option. Presumably he’ll compete for a spot in the rotation in Spring Training.