Chicago Cubs Carlos Zambrano for Chris Volstad Trade Proves to Be a Mistake

Darrell HorwitzSenior Writer IIMay 20, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - MAY 02:  Carlos Zambrano #38 of the Miami Marlins pitches against the San Francisco Giants in the seventh inning at AT&T Park on May 2, 2012 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The talk when Theo Epstein came to the Chicago Cubs was that the culture had to change, so giving in to that, Epstein shipped embattled starter Carlos Zambrano to the Miami Marlins for Chris Volstad.

It was thought of as a move that needed to be made, along with bringing back a cheap asset who might benefit from a change of scenery.

Epstein looked like a visionary in Spring Training when Volstad was untouchable in Arizona. He won, or should I say was given a spot in the rotation when the Cubs decided not to give Randy Wells a legitimate shot.

You could see the plotting on their part. They were out to prove just how smart they were by getting such a valuable piece in Volstad for the volatile Zambrano.

Epstein made similar understated moves when he took the job in Boston, picking up David Ortiz and Bill Mueller, who turned out to be key components on their 2004 championship team.

The Volstad move is not likely to go down quite as successful as those. In fact, after his last failed start lasting only two innings, he is now toiling in the minors at Iowa.

In eight starts with the Cubs, his record was 0-6 and the Cubs lost every game. Take away his outings and the Cubs are a .500 team.

Along with his 7.46 ERA, he had an embarrassing 1.610 WHIP. In his career, he had given up 670 hits in 625 innings, showing he has very hittable stuff. His career record is now 32-45.

A first round draft pick of the Marlins in 2005, the Cubs thought they could turn him around and add a young asset to the team. Instead, it brought about one of the first questions in how they evaluate talent.

Epstein, after talking to Cubs players about Zambrano after taking over, decided he had to be moved at all costs, which was plenty.

The Cubs are responsible for about $15 million of Zambrano's $18 million contract. That's a lot of money to spend to dump a player, especially one who has been so effective for the Marlins.

Zambrano's record is only 2-2 in the same eight starts as Volstad had, with the team going 4-4. That is much better than Volstad, but when you look closer, the difference is ever more dramatic.

He has a 1.96 ERA to go along with a WHIP of 1.073. He has a career mark of 127-83.

I know won and loss records are not always valued because other factors are involved, but you can see one pitcher in his career has put his team in a position to win, while the other in a position to lose.

If you are going to make a big deal of Greg Maddux winning 15 games or more 17 years in a row, then you have to value what Zambrano has done, because there was luck involved in Maddux's streak.

Going back to talking to Zambrano's teammates, I question how much value should have been given to that. Talking to a bunch of losers, and that's what that Cubs team was, should not be the reason for moving a valuable asset, and that's exactly what Zambrano was.

Alfonso Soriano was one of the most outspoken critics of him. If he thinks Zambrano is not the kind of player you want on your team, that makes me want that player that much more.

The one thing you could never say about Zambrano is that he didn't always go all-out on the field. You could say Soriano has never done that, and you would be correct.

I want to change the culture of content players like Soriano, who is very happy collecting his paycheck and not wanting anything upsetting the calm. Zambrano may have been a hot-head, but much of his anger was because he hated losing and showed it.

You can say he sometimes showed up his teammates, and I agree that's wrong, but I would much rather have someone who cares than someone who could care less.

Zambrano had only one year left on his contract, and there was no way he was coming back next year.

If the Cubs could have been patient enough to take a chance and watch how Zambrano performed during the first half of the season, they could have unloaded him at the trade deadline and received a valuable young asset who could help the team in the future.

In addition, instead of having to pay almost all of his salary, the team that traded for him likely would have assumed his entire salary for the rest of the season. Contenders would have been competing against each other and upping the ante to add an experienced starter with the career success Zambrano has had.


Most of the current Cubs will not be on the roster when and if they eventually win, so why care what they thought anyway? If the culture change starts immediately or waits an extra few months, after 104 years, you would think patience in this circumstance would be understood better.

Epstein met with Zambrano after he took over, and Zambrano was very contrite and promised to be on his best behavior. I know what he says and what he does are often two different things, but with a new regime, wouldn't it have been worth it to take that chance?

When they made the deal, I panned the trade because I knew the Cubs received nothing in return.

This deal was strike one. You could say the Kerry Wood saga is strike two. I don't know if that one was on Epstein or on the owner, but at the time, I criticized the move.

I understand every general manager makes mistakes, and if you're right more than half the time, it's generally considered a good job. Epstein is going to make plenty of mistakes in his time with the Cubs.

It's when you find the hidden gems like he did with Ortiz that your value comes through. Hopefully, the Anthony Rizzo trade is one of those.

I remember sitting in front of former Cubs GM Jim Hendry with a list of questions. After one he didn't particularly like, he said to me, "You could have a list with any general manager of the mistakes they made."

He was right, as I have already said.

I'm going to give Epstein a mulligan so far, because I think his ideas for the teams' future are likely to lead to the success that fans of the team have dreamed of.

If I'm proven wrong, I plan on sitting in front of him with a similar list of questions like I had for Hendry.


    Maddon Goes Deep on Impact of Limiting Mound Visits

    Chicago Cubs logo
    Chicago Cubs

    Maddon Goes Deep on Impact of Limiting Mound Visits

    Jesse Rogers

    Ten Ways to Improve Major League Baseball

    MLB logo

    Ten Ways to Improve Major League Baseball

    Zobrist Says Back Is Pain-Free but No Timetable for Games

    Chicago Cubs logo
    Chicago Cubs

    Zobrist Says Back Is Pain-Free but No Timetable for Games

    Chicago Sun-Times
    via Chicago Sun-Times

    Clarity Could Come on Martinez on Saturday

    MLB logo

    Clarity Could Come on Martinez on Saturday

    NBC Sports Boston
    via NBC Sports Boston