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Big Z to the Pen!!!

Mike Klotz

Big Z to the Pen!!

The Cubs desperately needed a right handed power arm to come out late in the game.  They just got one.  Carlos Zambrano is going to be an awfully expensive set up man.  Just listening to Bores and Bernstein and some of the other Chicago talk show hosts they called this move "the worst move in baseball in the last century."  Holy hyperbole! I see potential in this move and here's why the arguments against this move are wrong:

  1. Have you seen the Cubs bullpen?  Their run differential in the 7th inning on is -16 after just 13 games.  I can already think of about 4 games that late inning relief has single handily cost the Cubs baseball games.  The first 6 innings of the game the Cubs have a plus run differential.  The biggest problem has been in late relief which is no secret to any Cubs fan.  This should bolster that tremendously. Starting pitching has been an undoubted strength thus far this season.  With this weekend's return of Ted Lilly, the rotation will only get stronger. This way the Cubs can subtract from a strength to assist in leveling out a weakness. 
  2. "Zambrano makes too much money to be a set up guy." Yes, Big Z is going to be, by far, the highest paid set up man in baseball but the Cubs were going to pay that bill regardless.  So just because he makes a lot of money is really irrelevant at this juncture.  There are clearly major issues in the pen and he can help fix them.
  3. "A starting pitcher is move valuable than a relief pitcher.  Moving Z to the pen will decrease his overall value."  Usually I would agree with this argument.  I think that this case is an exception to this usually true argument.  As stated above, the bullpen has been so bad this year and the starters have been so good that a switch could be more beneficial to the team.  The Cubs have lost so many games late this season that a solid back end of Marmol and Zambrano could alleviate the stress on fans and Lou Piniella.  If this horrific bullpen continues the way it is now, a lights out 8th inning guy could potentially be more valuable than a good starter as bad as this bullpen has been.  Again the Cubs have lost 4 games thus far due to the bullpen, if that continues the pen would be responsible for losing about 54 games.  Granted its a small sample size but that's a frightening number to ponder.
  4. "Zambrano often struggles early in the game. How can he come into a game and perform immediately?" This argument drives me insane.  The fact of the matter is that it is a completely different mindset for a guy coming out of the pen to hold a lead compared to a guy that is starting and planning to go 9 innings.  When a reliever comes into a game its do or die.  The job is to get 3 outs.  I am borderline giddy to see the stuff that Zambrano will have when he knows that he will only have to get three outs as opposed to getting 27.  
  5. "How are you going to take your horse out of the starting rotation and put him in the pen?"  Well horse hasn't been the case in the early going this season.  Z has been throwing a lot of pitches to get outs, he threw 119 pitches last night getting through just 6.  Prior outings this season have seen Zambrano going 5 and throwing over 120 pitches.  When this happens that means we get to see even more Grabow, Russell, Samardzija, Berg, or Gray - ugh.  I don't know about you but the less that I can see of any these guys is fine with me.  The addition of Zambrano in the pen pushes all of these other guys early in the game or better yet out all together.

However, I don't want to paint this move as all rosy and great.  I think that it shows panic for the organization.  It is a radical move to take your opening day starter after 14 games and totally change his role in the pitching staff.  For this to work the offense is going to have to turn things around (which I think that they will) and Carlos Silva and Tom Gorzelanny are going to have to continue their solid work (that I am not so sure of).  I am still not certain that this move is one that should be a permanent solution to this issue.  If it is one that fills the gap between the Cubs acquisition of Luke Gregerson or some other set up guy, I am fine with it.  The fact of the matter is that teams don't just hand those kind of guys away.  Braden Looper may be another option who is still out there.

One thing that cannot be said anymore is that Zambrano is a selfish player.  He has openly accepted this new gig, simply to help the team.  Career wise this is a step back but he is willing to do it to help his team.  This was a move that previously helped struggling starter Ryan Dempster to better aid help the team.  Eventually Dempster returned to the rotation and has since been one of the most dependable starters in the National League. 

Look, the bottom line is that I don't know if this is going to work.  I think that it will and you have seen my reasons why I think that it will.  One thing I know is that it will be electric at Wrigley to see Zambrano warming up in the bullpen to protect a one run lead on the field.  Hopefully it can translate into electric stuff on the field and more wins than if he was starting. 



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