Why Moving Carlos Zambrano to the Chicago Cubs Bullpen Might Work

Matt PoloniCorrespondent IApril 23, 2010

CHICAGO - APRIL 15: Starting pitcher Carlos Zambrano of the Chicago Cubs, wearing a number 42 jersey in honor of Jackie Robinson, reacts after an outfield catch by teammate Tyler Colvin against the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field on April 15, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. The Brewers defeated the Cubs 8-6. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

To preface my thoughts on this subject, it should be clear that "might" is a key word in this discussion. Moving Carlos Zambrano to the bullpen might work.

The truth of the matter is that the Cubs are in a very difficult situation.

Yes, you could very easily say that they've put themselves in this very difficult situation, but that is completely irrelevant to the issue at hand.

To start things out, let's just take a look at what the Cubs had to take into consideration.

Ted Lilly, who has been a consistently effective starter for the Cubs since joining the team in 2007, is coming off the disabled list and is scheduled to make his first start on Saturday.

In order to make room for him in the rotation, somebody has to move to the bullpen. Ever since it was announced during spring training that Carlos Silva and Tom Gorzelanny won the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation, it was assumed that they were the candidates for demotion.

As it turns out, Silva has probably put together the best performance of anyone in the rotation. All of his outings have been quality starts, both statistically and anecdotally.

Gorzelanny had a solid first start, was knocked out early in his second outing by a line drive off his throwing arm, and pitched pretty well on Thursday against the Mets. It seems like he might be the most reasonable choice to make the move.

But the Cubs have three lefties in the bullpen, two of which have been surprisingly effective and the third being a veteran who isn't a candidate for demotion.

Since Gorzelanny is left-handed, moving him to the bullpen would give the Cubs four lefties and three righties available for relief work, which is less than ideal.

Then there are also the problems that the club has been having with the bullpen as a whole.

Basically, Sean Marshall, Carlos Marmol, and James Russell have been the only reliable pitchers out of the bunch. Everyone else has contributed to blowing games left and right.

Marmol is doing perfectly fine as the closer, but neither Marshall nor Russell is fit for a long-term setup role. Russell is more of a lefty specialist, and Marshall seems like he might be coming down to a more realistic level of production.

The Cubs need someone to make an impact in the bullpen, probably someone right-handed. So far, the most promising guy they've been looking at is Braden Looper.

Suffice it to say that landing Looper wouldn't make a huge splash.

So can anyone currently in the organization make an immediate impact to stop the bleeding?

Silva has an injury history with his shoulder. He's better suited to the controlled situation afforded by a spot in the rotation than the hectic one provided by a setup role.

Gorzelanny has very limited experience coming out of the bullpen (17 of his 431 career innings) and hasn't had success in the role.

With Randy Wells' career being so young and considering the success he's had in the Cubs rotation, it doesn't make any sense to stifle his development by stuffing him in the bullpen.

Andrew Cashner has been getting some mention, but he's working on a few things in the minors. He's been doing well so far, but he's still adjusting to working from the other side of the rubber and getting a better feel for his changeup.

Although he might be able to help immediately in relief, one has to wonder if his development would be affected in a way similar to Jeff Samardzija, who came to the big leagues in a similar situation. Do they really want to make that same mistake again?

That pretty much leaves Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster.

Zambrano hasn't relieved since 2002, but Dempster became the Cubs' closer under comparable circumstances in May 2005 and stayed in that role through the end of the 2007 season.

It would seem like Dempster is the logical choice.

But Dempster has done pretty well in the rotation these past two seasons and in the early goings of 2010. If you ask me, he's been far better in his current role than he ever was as a reliever.

Zambrano has the stuff and the mentality that you want out of a late-inning reliever. He's had his struggles this season, to say the least, but has settled down more in his last two starts.

Why not let him pitch the eighth inning?

The argument that I've seen most often against Zambrano filling the role is that his best asset is his durability. But that's only partially true.

In Zambrano's case, you can look at durability and health as two independent factors.

Yes, he can consistently go into the seventh or eighth inning. But that's only when he's healthy and pitching well.

Between his late-season struggles in 2008 and his 57 days on the disabled list in the past two seasons (42 in 2009), Zambrano could use some rest to keep him fresh and healthy for September and October.

Assuming that Jim Hendry can get someone to fill the setup role via trade, free agency, or minor league development, a change only needs to be made for a short period of time. It's because of this that his durability (his natural ability to go deep into games) works in favor of the decision.

If you put Dempster, Wells, Silva, or Gorzelanny in the bullpen and need to return them to the rotation after a month or two, they will need a decent period of time to stretch out before they can go deep into games again. Zambrano, meanwhile, might only need a couple of starts to get to the same point.

Even if you assume that Zambrano would stay healthy and pitch well for the rest of the season in the rotation, what good would it do for him (and every other guy in the rotation) to consistently pitch six or seven good innings every five days if the bullpen is going to blow it most of the time?

He has immediately become the highest-paid relief pitcher in baseball, but how is that at all relevant to the situation? He's going to make that money whether he's starting, relieving, sitting on the bench, or released.

The rotation should be in the same kind of shape with Lilly taking his spot, he has the best potential to make an impact of anyone that was in the rotation, and he will get some rest for a playoff run.

Eventually, either Silva or Gorzelanny will probably pitch himself out of the rotation and allow for Zambrano's return, but why disrupt them when they're pitching well?

I'll admit that my initial reaction to the news was something similar to, "What the heck are they thinking?"

It's just that, after taking a day to think about it, I'm not sure there was a better option.

If nothing else, at least it shows the players that the team is willing to do whatever it takes to win and brings a sense of urgency to the clubhouse.


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