In a season that can only be described as an out of control roller coaster ride, the Florida Marlins are certainly hanging in there while having dropped a few passengers along the way.
After beginning the season 29-19 (on May 26th) and being as close as a game behind the Philadelphia Phillies for second place in the NL East, the Marlins found themselves in a never ending free fall which saw them fall to as much as 34-45—11 games behind a month later by June 28.
Along the way, the Marlins lost their Opening Day center fielder Chris Coghlan with a recurring knee issue, saw their hitting coach John Mallee get the boot and their manager Edwin Rodriguez jumped ship when the going got rough.
Now, after two months of the highs and lows, the Marlins have rekindled some old magic with the rehiring of 80-year-old skipper Jack Mckeon who has started off by leading the Marlins to a 20-13 record. The Marlins find themselves at the cusp of .500 and entering a crucial series against the Braves during the busiest stretch of the year, the MLB trade deadline.
Are they buyers? Not really. Are they sellers? Not quite. The Marlins are less than a year away from entering their spanking new retractable roof stadium in downtown Miami and want all the momentum they can get. But they face one obstacle if they plan to achieve their preseason goal of making the postseason and the lofty expectation of winning the World Series.
Out since mid-May, ace pitcher Josh Johnson is in a holding pattern with the shoulder that has been checked out and revealed no structural damage—just strain and inflammation.
The Marlins have for the most part protected their asset so Johnson can be the one to make the first start in the new ballpark April 4th against the Cardinals next season. The team has taken it slow with him to go along with setbacks that have halted any progress towards even beginning to throw off a mound.
So can the Marlins really expect to even scratch the surface of their goals with their current roster and overtake the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies—both with an abundance of pitching?
No, and a reason was proven with Brad Hand's start versus the Washington Nationals and the recent demotion of Chris Volstad. The Marlins are in dire need of another starting pitcher and if they want to sustain this run they better do it fast.
The lack of starting pitching depth has been made obvious, both Alex Sanabia and Sean West began the season injured and after a pair of bullpen days, blotched starts by a pair of other minor leaguers. They had to essentially rush Brad Hand before he was ready to pitch at the major league level. Pitcher Clay Hensley has had return to his previous role as a starter after spending the better part of the last season-and-a-half as a setup man/closer.
Should the Marlins trade for Carlos Zambrano?
Enter Carlos Zambrano.
Call me insane, but the Chicago has been trying to deal him for a while and Zambrano's contract presents a willful candidate to be chopped off the books by the Cubs.
If Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria was/is willing to put up with a personality such as Ozzie Guillen as a potential manager then Zambrano should not be so hard.
Yes, Zambrano has an had a history of temper and ego, but for the most part that has not been an issue this season and Zambrano would be a great complement to starters Ricky Nolasco and Venezuelan countryman Anibal Sanchez—currently the Marlins' top two starters.
This season, Zambrano has 7-6 record with a respectable 4.59 ERA to go with a slightly high 1.41 WHIP.
Zambrano, 30, has a year-and-a-half remaining on his contract (the 2013 vesting option requires he finish first or second in Cy Young voting and conclude the season healthy). He is due roughly $6 million the rest of this season and $18 million in 2012 for a cumulative total of about $24 million.
The Marlins might be willing to pay as much $5-7 million of that salary, given they gave Javier Vazquez a $7 million contract last offseason.
With no other team really interested in the Zambrano, the Marlins would be smart in getting Big Z, perhaps in exchange for pitcher like Chris Volstad and/or mid-range minor league prospects.
An interesting dynamic would be being able to cash in on Zambrano's hitting ability as he would provide a pop in the Marlins lineup every fifth day in addition to being a possible pinch hitting option.
The Marlins supposed master pinch hitter, Wes Helms has dismal numbers this season, hitting .192 (20 for 104) with no home runs and just six RBI. In comparison, Carlos Zambrano is hitting .324 (12 for 37) with a home run and four RBI.
With football back in play and the Braves and Phillies primed to pull away, the Marlins need to keep a sustained momentum and acquiring Zambrano might be just bring some spark with Josh Johnson reportedly out for the season.
Zambrano can give the Marlins the consistency of a solid pitcher (his ERA has been under 4.0 the previous nine seasons) and if all works well the Marlins will have Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, Anibal Sanchez and Carlos Zambrano to roll out in 2012.
In the end, Zambrano is the definition of a move that the front office mentioned would be their M.O.—adding for the immediate future, as he would fit that description perfectly.