It starts with a walk. Then maybe another, and often another after that.
Sometimes it includes hitting a batter or two. In four of his last five appearances, he has walked or hit the first batter he has faced. Once there are runners in scoring position, what usually follows is a string of hits, or more walks, before the lead is gone and Cubs fans are booing him off the field.
Twitter explodes. The hash tags trend throughout Chicago. Fans gather on social media to vent their frustrations while sweating through every pitch he throws.
You know the story with Carlos Marmol. You've seen it many times before.
And so have the Cubs.
That’s why, at this point, I’m not sure what the Cubs stand to gain by continuing to pitch the embattled reliever in pressure situations. We’re now going on three seasons in which Marmol has not been consistently reliable.
After Saturday’s latest Marmol meltdown, in which he walked Zack Cozart on four pitches, issued a free pass to Joey Votto, and then plunked Brandon Phillips—setting the table for a decisive four run Reds rally to beat the Cubs—Dale Sveum was back at the microphone in Wrigley Field’s cramped interview room trying to explain another disaster from his combustible reliever.
“One way or the other, he’s got to get fixed,” he said. “He’s gotta pitch.”
The 31-year-old right hander is in the final year of a three year, $20 million contract which pays him $9.8 million this season. The working theory for why—despite Marmol’s continued issues with confidence and mechanics he was still getting chances to pitch in tight spots—was if he pitched decently well for awhile, the Cubs brass could move him in a trade by the end of July.
But, at this point, no smart baseball executive would part with anything significant to acquire him.
“I would say he has no value now,” one National League scout told me. “Even if he pitched well for a stretch, it wouldn't change my mind. His struggles have been very apparent.”
The Cubs should just cut ties with Marmol. He’s costing them money whether he pitches or not, but he’s costing them games too often when he’s out there.
The longer he continues to pitch in pressure situations, the more he’ll falter in tough spots. If he can only pitch in a mop-up role, what team would part with anything of value to acquire him?
Even if he were moved, according to one American League executive, the Cubs would have to pay the lion’s share of his contract before he believed teams would even sniff at an offer.
And what would they really acquire, other than a low-level minor league player with little hope of reaching the major leagues?
Marmol, a former all-star, was once one of the most dominant pitchers in the National League. In 2007 and 2008, he was a magician as a middle reliever, earning tons of national attention as Lou Piniella’s security blanket in pressure situations.
He could be called upon with runners in scoring position and nobody out, with the bases loaded—any situation. It didn't matter. Fans across the country marveled at his dominance, as he racked up strikeouts at prolific rates to get the Cubs out of dire circumstances.
In his first year as the full-time closer in 2010, he saved 38 of 43 games, held opposing batters to a minuscule .147 batting average against him, and struck out a whopping 16 batters per nine innings pitched.
For a time, he was great.
Those days are long gone now, and as the Cubs work to create a new culture—a winning culture—they can’t afford to lose as many games as they have by blowing late leads with a volatile reliever at the end of the road.
Carlos Marmol has had plenty of success as a Cubs reliever, and more recently, plenty of failure. To his credit, he has always been available to the media and accountable for his mistakes when his performance costs his team. He doesn't make excuses.
But the time has come for the Cubs to stop putting him in position to walk the lead off man. They must simply walk away from him.