Theo Epstein Report Card: Chris Volstad and Carlos Zambrano


Now that the trade deadline has come and gone, it is time to continue the series of reviews on the moves Theo Epstein and Company have already made so far.

Even Epstein wondered out loud to reporters at Spring Training when his honeymoon period with the media and fans would be up. Two years? Two months? Or two weeks? Although the Cubs may be on pace for a record losing season, I for one will not jump the gun on the Epstein era just yet. And I am sure most reasonable Cubs fans feel the same way. So with that in mind I kick of this series of reviews with the more than just the 2012 season in mind.

Today we take a look at the salary and cancer dump of Carlos Zambrano by the Epstein led Cubs front office. After the recent in house blow ups and lack of All Star production from the mercurial starting pitcher, fans on the North Side had been clamoring for the departure of the burly right hander. Finding a trade partner had proven to be a difficult task  for the past regime, and that scenario had not changed with a flip of a switch to the Epstein and Jed Hoyer led organization.

However, the front office duo did start their time with the Cubs by publically saying all the right things about Zambrano. Behind the scenes, it had been determined early on from one on one discussions that Zambrano would not waive his no trade rights given to him by Jim Hendry. Epstein also got a feel for the clubhouse’s feelings towards Zambrano, and what was obvious to everyone else who had been around for the distractions of prior years was being confirmed to Epstein. Disagreements and fights within the team are not uncommon, but what was unforgiveable amongst teammates was the night Zambrano walked out on his team mid game almost a year ago today after a terrible outing.

As a result, and despite Zambrano declining to waive his no trade clause up front, Epstein and Company went on the hunt to find a new home for the disgruntled pitcher. It was publically noted during Ozzie Guillen’s time on the South Side that the fiery felt he would be able to harness Zambrano if the fellow Venezuelan was on his team. Guillen got a chance to prove it when Epstein and the Cubs announced that they had dealt Zambrano to the Marlins for Chris Volstad. The agreement included the Cubs eating $15 million of the $18 million owed for 2012. Zambrano waived his no trade clause and his right for a $19 million option to vest in exchange for the $2.4 million in salary he lost while on the disqualified list after his “retirement” desertion last year, according to Bruce Levine of ESPN Chicago.

Volstad came to the Cubs with a career win loss record slightly under .500 with a 4.59 ERA. He is a former first round pick that struggled to be consistent with his off speed pitches.

The 6’8” righty held his own during his first Spring with the Cubs and made the Opening Day roster as the fourth starter in the rotation. Unfortunately for Volstad, he was not able hang onto the job, giving up 31 earned runs in his first seven starts. That led to his demotion to the minors to get some work. He returned for a spot start in July only to get shelled again. After the trading away of Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm, Volstad returned to the Major League rotation again out of necessity. However, in his two starts he has shown improvement, notching a quality start each time and collecting his first Major League victory last night in over a year.

Epstein and Hoyer’s grade on Volstad borderlines on incomplete since the righty has only made 10 starts so far this season. Dumping Zambrano will always be viewed as the key in this trade, but the fact that the front office was able to get back a pitcher who could at worst contribute at the back end of the rotation for the next three seasons is the cherry on top.

Volstad figures to get the rest of this season to cement his place in the Cubs rotation plans for 2013 and beyond. He will not be a free agent until 2015 and he only earned $2.655 million this year, meaning he will also be an economical option as the Cubs continue to rebuild the organization from the ground up.

The one concern Cubs fans had was Zambrano suddenly shaping up and returning to All Star form with the change of scenery. Knowing that would have never happened with the Cubs was not much of a silver lining, but seeing that Zambrano has not been able to regain his dominate form just makes this trade look that much better. In fact, the Marlins ended up demoting him from the rotation to the bullpen just a couple weeks ago. Some things just don’t change?

2012 Grade: A-

2013 and Beyond Grade: B+