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Cubs Tue Jan 31 2012

Coming & Going: Cubs Rotation Post-Zambrano

It's been a tumultuous offseason for the local nines, with the Cubs and White Sox both saying goodbye to big names who played big roles in recent years. Let's get you up to speed before spring training arrives. (First in a series.)

    

Goodbye
Carlos Zambrano: 9-7, 4.82 ERA (81 ERA+), 101 K, 1.442 WHIP in 145.2 IP last year

Hello (above, clockwise from top left)
Paul Maholm: 6-14, 3.66 ERA (105 ERA+), 97 K, 1.294 WHIP in 162.1 IP last year
Andy Sonnanstine: 0-2, 5.55 ERA (68 ERA+), 12 K, 1.458 WHIP in 35.2 IP last year
Travis Wood: 6-6, 4.84 ERA (81 ERA+), 76 K, 1.491 WHIP in 106 IP last year
Chris Volstad: 5-13, 4.89 ERA (80 ERA+), 117 K, 1.425 WHIP in 165.2 IP last year

What Happened?

The Carlos Zambrano Era is over in Chicago. With his act getting old over the last three years, the Cubs shipped him to Miami for starter Chris Volstad. This was an obvious instance of addition by subtraction; although the 25-year old righthander has a little bit of upside, Volstad's impact will be that he is not the volatile, fiery Zambrano. It will no doubt be a more peaceful and serene year in the Cubs clubhouse. When the trade was announced, the dugout's Gatorade jug sighed in relief.

How Will the Cubs Miss Zambrano?

When Z was pitching well, he was a stud. Zambrano's heyday was from 2004 to 2007, when he was fifth in Cy Young voting three times, won 16 games with a 3.41 ERA on a terrible 66-win '06 team, and won 18 games on a division-winning '07 team. His finest moment was in 2008, when he threw a no-hitter against a surging Astros team.

As we saw in 2007 and 2008, Carlos Zambrano could be the ace of a playoff team's pitching staff. Not sure if we can say the same thing about anyone else in the Cubs' current rotation. Also, of the four young starters on the Cubs 2003 pitching staff (along with Kerry Wood, Mark Prior and Matt Clement), Zambrano has had the best career by far over the past eight seasons. That counts for something.

Zambrano had good seasons in 2009 and 2010, having an ERA under 4.00 both years and scoring 118 and 127, respectively, in ERA-plus (100 is the league average). Although he regressed in 2011, he's still only 30 years old. It wouldn't be too big of a surprise if he bounces back and has a big year under new Marlins skipper (and fellow Venezuelan) Ozzie Guillen.

What Do the New Guys Bring?

Chicago has nine potential starting pitchers right now. We can assume Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster will make the rotation, and Randy Wells (82 starts for the Cubs the past three years) is likely to make it too. Rodrigo Lopez started 16 games for the Cubs last year, so he has a shot. For the last spot (and maybe the fourth slot)? It's up for grabs between Volstad, Sonnanstine, Maholm, Wood and Casey Coleman.

Wood has the most upside of the five. He is only 24, and the highlight of his 2011 season was pitching eight innings of perfect baseball in Philadelphia on July 10. Nothing wrong with that. Wood had solid stats last season, and since Chicago gave up one of their best bullpen guys for him (Sean Marshall: 2.26 ERA, 173 ERA+ in 2011), we have to assume Wood is worth something, right?

Maholm is the steadiest of the five, with starts in all 185 games he has appeared in since 2005, and Volstad is formidable (to put it nicely). Coleman wasn't great last year (3-9, 6.40 ERA), but like Wood, he's only 24. And Sonnanstine had a nice 13-9 season for the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays before tailing off since then. Taking a flier on him is not a big risk at all.

But let's be real. This was a people trade, not a baseball trade. After all the tantrums, screaming matches, clashes with managers, a threatened retirement, and a bizarre stretch in 2010 where he had to come out of the bullpen, Carlos Zambrano had to go. Apparently, it was worth $15 million to the Cubs; that's the amount they will pay Z while he pitches for another team.

The Cubs felt they were better off moving forward without Zambrano and his attitude. If the new guys are better than league-average, it will be pure bonus.

 
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