I don’t know if Marmol knows why he’s still a Cub.
Marmol is the European sports car of closers --- finely tuned and destined to cost a lot of money to fix when the inevitable breakdown comes. Slider pitchers always have arm issues, either pain or wildness, or both. Marmol’s slider is like they say about a fingerprint: never the same release point twice.
Marmol’s slider doesn’t always slide, like the pitch to Matt Holliday on Tuesday that became a two-run homer and a blown save, his second of the season, which tied him for the league lead. We can safely say last season was no fluke when Marmol topped National League relievers in failures and tied for the major-league lead in ruining the most potential victories.
When he’s on, he’s unhittable, but the bigger point is, why do the Cubs need to bother? Even if he’s on, why do they need to bother?
The Marmol issue isn’t just this season. It’s about the first season the Cubs can stop lying to their fans about “parallel fronts’’ and be telling the truth about fielding a contending team. That’s 2014 at the earliest, the way I see it. There’s no way Marmol is still on the team then. In fact, the only starting player you’re watching now who’s likely to be around in two seasons is Starlin Castro, and maybe not even him if he can’t pay attention better.
Look, Epstein traded Nomar Garciaparra out of Boston, so trading Castro might be mere batting practice by comparison.
It seems odd that Epstein would still have Marmol on the payroll. I figured he would be gone to San Francisco when Brian Wilson required surgery. But no. Marmol’s still here, and so are the questions and expected bad outings. I figured Epstein would dump Marmol because he would seem to have more value bringing back more pitching depth than he does attempting to close games for a team that will challenge the 100-loss mark.
The lucre that Marmol might bring is one thing. Bringing that talent in now would seem just as important.
Epstein has this gene that craves controllable years. That would seem to be the only reason that Brett Jackson wasn’t brought to Wrigley the day Marlon Byrd was traded to Boston. I can’t see Jackson playing center in the bigs until the Cubs have saved themselves that extra year. But at least Jackson is doing it in the new Cubs system ordered by Epstein. Why is some other organization developing future Cubs that Marmol will bring?
Marmol is a trade that should not cost the Cubs money the way Byrd and Carlos Zambrano caused the Tom Ricketts Salary-Eating Toteboard to hit $20 million. Marmol is owed about $15 or $16 million over this season and next. That’s a lot of dough, but it’s easier to find suckers in the closer market.
The clucking from Cubs management is that the team has torn apart last year’s bullpen with the trades of Sean Marshall and Andrew Cashner and the promotion of Jeff Samardzija to the rotation. The Cubs will claim they brought back Kerry Wood and retained Marmol in order to stock the pen with reasonable facsimiles of a major-league relievers.
Lot of hooey, that. Wood was Ricketts’ fantasy league pick. Ricketts’ human bobblehead. There was no reason for a 30-something Disabled List Hall-of-Famer to come back. There was every reason for the Cubs to audition every arm in their system for that job --- that and Marmol’s.
I have no idea whether Rafael Dolis or Lendy Castillo or whoever else is out there have the nerve and the stuff to own the eighth and/or ninth innings. What’s worse, I don’t think the Cubs know it, either, which is just plain wrong. It’s counterproductive. It does not get you closer to winning a World Series.
The story goes that Epstein starts almost every meeting by saying, “We don’t know anything.’’ Maybe it’s apocryphal, but it’s certainly true in the case of this bullpen. Dolis, Castillo and now Michael Bowden --- any and all of them – have to be put in those spots if you’re going to find out whether they can succeed in those spots. If there’s a point in waiting, I’m missing it.
Until his Red Sox drafted and developed Jonathan Papelbon, Epstein seemed to go door-to-door looking for a ninth-inning guy. In playing off the “Moneyball’’ description of Kevin Youkilis as “the Greek god of walks,’’ Epstein once called himself “the Jewish god of illegitimate closers.’’
That sounds like a good plan for now. This sounds like a good time for Epstein to act on being that guy again and quickly. Closers seem to be both nowhere and everywhere. But more importantly, closers seem to be the last thing a championship team adds.