Friday, January 6, 2012

Big Z to Miami: The Analysis

In 2010, Carlos Zambrano was suspended by the Chicago Cubs and forced to take anger management classes after he had an argument with Derrek Lee in the dugout.  On August 13, 2011, Big Z claimed that he was going to retire after being ejected from a game.  He was suspended for the remainder of the season.  In spite of all of this, he maintained that he wanted to be a "Cub for life".

That dream died officially yesterday--although various reports had killed it a few days earlier--when he was shipped off to the Miami Marlins in exchange for Chris Volstad and cash.  Volstad was the first draft pick of the Marlins in 2005 (16th overall).

Of course, whenever there is a trade, the first question that pops into everyone's mind is: who won? This is one of those deals where it is very difficult to tell at this early stage.


If the 30-year old Zambrano returns to 2004, 2006, or even 2007 or '08 form then the Marlins have made an outstanding deal.  Big Z's ERA has never been stellar (3.60 over his career), but it is certainly good enough for a team filled with power bats and run-makers.  Also, with a solid defensive infield (that is, if Hanley Ramirez can adjust successfully to third base), the team should be able to handle the excessive number of baserunners Zambrano allows (1.32 career WHIP, nothing lower than 1.38 over the last three seasons).  If, however, his temper overshadows his play, the team may be in for some headaches and discipline hearings.  Zambrano is supposedly a close friend of Ozzie Guillen's, but relationships always change when one friend is in a power of position over the other.  Big Z could easily write off every instruction Guillen gives him as "a friend's advice", and continue to regress as a player.  It is only that he has had some success in his recent career that his contract has not been considered amongst the likes of A.J. Burnett and John Lackey.  If his play remains below-average and his mouth gets the better of him, the Marlins are going to end up as nothing more than the chemotherapy for the Cubs' clubhouse cancer.

An important point to remember is that the Marlins also received a significant amount of monetary compensation in this deal.  The Cubs sent $15.5 million to Miami, 86.1% of the money remaining on Zambrano's contract.  This leaves the Marlins on the hook for about as much money as Chris Volstad is projected to make next year.  Zambrano has only one year left on his contract, so this deal is fairly low risk, but it will be significant to determining whether or not anyone will sign him for 2013.  There is always the chance that he will retire after 2012--a possibility that he has alluded to in the past--in order to pursue a more family-oriented lifestyle.  If this is not his plan, however, then he will have to perform spectacularly in order to receive any viable contract offers in the offseason.  A determined attitude would be helpful to Miami and may bring out the best of Big Z.


Chris Volstad has underachieved over his four seasons of Major League action.  After an outstanding first season (6-4, 2.88 ERA in 15 games, 14 starts) he slipped significantly, putting up 5.21, 4.58, and
4.59 ERAs in each of the last three seasons with a combined 26-35 record.  He showed some promise at the end of last season, however, when he posted a 2.32 ERA over five September starts with a 1.16 WHIP.  If he can regain control of the abilities he has shown that he has, then the Cubs will be very pleased with this trade.  Otherwise, Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza (assuming that he is not traded), Travis Wood, and Randy Wells could pressure him to the back of the rotation and, if Casey Coleman or another prospect starts to perform exceptionally, Volstad may end up in the bullpen.  An important note to remember is that Dempster, Garza, Wells, Volstad, and Coleman are all right-handed.  Teams rarely like to have so little diversity in the rotation.  Overall, Volstad is a relatively low-risk pick up.  The team has control over him for a couple more seasons and he does not seem to have quite as much of an attitude as Big Z (at least not one significant enough to be published all over the Internet).  He has, however, shown his anger in the past.  Some fans may remember him as the pitcher who threw at Nyjer Morgan twice in a game two seasons ago--a game which featured a benches-clearing brawl and four ejections.  Volstad served a six game suspension for the incident.  The Cubs may be happier, however, with a player who translates his fury into in-game violence than one who takes it out on his teammates.

This deal is difficult to judge at this stage because both Volstad and Zambrano are completely unpredictable.  Because of Volstad's youth and potential, and the fact that they have cleared Zambrano out of the organization are both in favour of the Cubs.  However, Carlos Zambrano for $2.5 million really seems like a steal.  Right now, I tentatively give the Marlins the victory simply because of the excess of money that has exchanged hands.  This is a deal which needs to be reviewed at a later date for a more final determination of a victor.

1 comment:

  1. "Chemotheraphy for the Cubs' clubhouse cancer"? Nice one.

    The 2012 Marlins are shaping up to be the newest version of the 2011 Boston Red Sox: big salaries, big egos and big personality clashes. How long before the unhappiness of Ramirez, the unpredictability of Ozzie and the hot temper of Zambrano causes the team to spontaneously combust?

    You're right, in isolation it's too early to judge a winner of this trade; but this does seem like the Marlins are throwing grease onto an already raging fire.