Carlos Zambrano: Marlins Make Brilliant Move Acquiring Controversial Pitcher

Adam WellsFeatured ColumnistJanuary 5, 2012

CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 06:  Starting pitcher Carlos Zabrano #38 of the Chicago Cubs stands on the mound durng the first inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field on August 6, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Brian Kersey/Getty Images)
Brian Kersey/Getty Images

Carlos Zambrano wore out his welcome with the Chicago Cubs two years ago, but because of his albatross contract, it was always going to be difficult to move him. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer decided they would do whatever it took to get rid of him, and the Miami Marlins were happy to take him. 

While Cubs fans are rejoicing today knowing that Zambrano won't be around to beat up anymore Gatorade tubs, the Marlins fans should be praising the job their front office did to bring him into town. 

Even after acquiring Mark Buerhle to pitch alongside Josh Johnson, Anibal Sanchez and Ricky Nolasco, the Marlins still had a huge hole in their rotation.

The pitchers that were left on the free-agent market are looking for too much money (Edwin Jackson), unsure of whether they will play in 2012 (Javier Vazquez) or reluctant to play on the east coast (Hiroki Kuroda). 

Zambrano was the best of a poor or indecisive group of free agents. The best part of the deal is that the Marlins are taking on virtually nothing, and giving up virtually nothing to make it happen. 

The Cubs are going to be paying $15 million of Zambrano's salary this year, leaving the Marlins on the hook for just $3 million. And when he is going right, he has a significantly higher ceiling than Volstad. 

Some fans might say that Zambrano is not right—at least not in the head—so he can't be depended upon to make 30 starts in a season. 

But part of the problem with Zambrano might have been Chicago. He is not the most stable pitcher in the world, and his performance over the last two years was an indication that he had checked out long ago. 

Jack Moore of Fangraphs wrote about Zambrano quitting on the Cubs in his breakdown of the deal:

We often hear the narrative of a player quitting on his team. Rarely do we ever see it actually happen, but Carlos Zambrano literally quit on the Cubs, packing up his locker and leaving after a rough start on August 12th. That particular last-straw start saw Zambrano yield a whopping five home runs, an especially uncharacteristic game for a player like Zambrano who so specialized in keeping the ball in the ballpark. From 2002 through 2010—his official rookie season onward—Zambrano had never allowed more than 1.0 HR/9 until 2011, and specifically never until that final start. Without those 4.1 innings and five home runs, Zambrano allowed 14 home runs in 141.1 innings, or 0.89 per nine innings.

That does not speak well of his character, but as a low-risk, high-reward pitcher, he is worth the investment for the Marlins. 

Zambrano is just 30 years old, posted decent numbers in 2010—3.33 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 8.12 K/9 IP, 2.3 WAR—and still has the stuff to be a quality starter.

If he is able to duplicate that performance in 2012, the Marlins will be getting a bargain considering the money they are paying and talent they gave up. 

So even though there is some risk in taking on Zambrano at this stage in his career, the reward for the Marlins made it a worthwhile investment.