Go Figure: Cubs move Zambrano to the bullpen

Zambrano is the new setup man for the Cubs in one of the most bizarre baseball moves I can remember. (Pic via sportsmaven.com)

Just as I was thinking that something else needed to happen on this lovely Wednesday evening to distract the national sports media from Ben Roethlisberger suspension, the Chicago Cubs stepped up to the plate.

The Cubs have moved Carlos Zambrano, their opening day starter and longtime ace, to the bullpen.

Zambrano will serve as the setup man to closer Carlos Marmol, who has been dominant this season. Ted Lilly, coming off a stint on the DL, will assume Zambrano’s spot in the starting rotation.

Is Lou Pinella trying to get fired? Here only a few of the many reasons why this might be the dumbest move in baseball during the 27 years I have been on planet earth:

– First of all, the Cubs have only played 14 games this season. A slow start has been due in part to a woeful bullpen, consisting of young unproven arms, but primarily due to a ineffective offense. Aramis Ramirez is barely hitting above .100 and the rest of the lineup has been woefully inconsistent.

– Zambrano’s greatest asset is his durability. He has pitched over two hundred innings four times in his eight year MLB career, making at least 30 starts in seven of those eight years. The results have been somewhat varied, but his overall record of 106-70 and 3.56 ERA makes him one of the better STARTING pitchers in all of baseball.

– Zambrano’s greatest weakness is control. He is prone to losing his release point–and temper–during his appearances. It seems unlikely that he could remain sharp while pitching fewer and fewer innings.

– Zambrano hasn’t pitched out of the bullpen since 2001. Unlike Joba Chamberlain, the best example of starter turned setup man, there is no track record of bullpen success with Zambrano. It will most likely take him time to get acclimated to his new role.

– The Cubs lineup is bad, their starting pitching is average. How many setup opportunities will there even be for Big Z?

– Zambrano is essentially being demoted while Carlos Silva, who has been a revelation thus far in 2010, remains in the starting rotation. Comparing the career numbers of the two players makes the decision puzzling to even the most ignorant of baseball fans. Silva has been plagued with durability and weight issues in recent years. He also has more bullpen experience than Zambrano.

Ultimately, it all comes down to value. Zambrano is making 19 million dollars in 2010, making him by far the highest paid setup man in all of baseball–ever. His role as a reliable starter and innings-eater justifies the huge contract. Relegating Zambrano to the pen severely limits his ability to produce, especially considering the Cubs weaknesses elsewhere on the field.

There is no logical or statistical evidence that can be provided to support the move. It is a fairly low-risk move for the sleepy Lou Pinella, who will be praised as a genius by the ESPN talking heads if the Cubs suddenly go on a hot streak. In reality, it is one of the dumbest decisions Pinella could have made–even if it works.

I would be shocked if this goes well. Don’t worry Cubs fans, there is always next year.


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