What’s on Second, I Don’t Know is at Third, and Who is the Cubs Closer?


I am not sure how many Cubbies Crib readers are going to be willing to put up with anything Cub related just hours after a “break your tv” walk off loss by Carlos Marmol and company Saturday night. Maybe my anger is my own fault. I did look at the NL Central standings and had mentally pencilled the Cubs in for 3-2 and tied for the division lead with the Reds after Chicago went up 5-1.

Cubs fans are not new to calling for Marmol’s head and that seemingly annual tradition started right off the bat on Opening Day. Marmol never got to finish what he started on Monday and put both team and fans through the wringer Thursday before escaping with a save. Mean while set up man and Japanese import saved Marmol’s bacon on Opening Day and continued to keep the pressure on Marmol, tossing a perfect frame with one strikeout in his second appearance as a Cub.

On Saturday night, Kyuji Fujikawa did an amazingly uncanny Marmol impression. The Japanese righty nearly blew a 5-1 lead for the visitors in grey, allowing three runs on four hits and a walk before getting former Cub cult hero Reed Johnson to feather a floater just over the mound for a double play.

Jun. 23, 2012; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Chicago Cubs pitcher Carlos Marmol (49) is pulled by manager

Dale Sveum

during the eighth inning against Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Hilderbrand-USA TODAY Sports

The negative way to look at it was to think that the Fujikawa collapse was just going to put more pressure on the struggling Cubs closer. The positive thinking was that the stage was set for Marmol to declare a firm grip on the closer’s job. Unfortunately for everyone involved with the Cubs, it was the former. For an ironic twist, Marmol got burned doing what was asked of him. Much of the complaints regarding his struggles has been his love for his slider. It has gotten to the point where the coaches firmly told him not to shake off the catcher.

On Saturday night, the Cubs took it one step further and had Marmol just throwing fastballs. After blowing the first by B.J. Upton, Marmol would later serve up the game tying homer on a fastball. The one out later, brother Justin finished off the come back win for the Braves and dealt another blow to the psyche of Marmol and the Cubs.

So where does this leave the Cubs just one week into the 2013 season? Marmol has been demoted to a set up role as recently as last season and the same could be done again. But after Fujikawa helped set the table for Marmol’s fall, is there any more confidence in the Japanese reliever to succeed in the role?

To dig deeper into the Marmol issue, has the Cubs front office (past and present) miscast him as a closer type? Marmol’s greatest success during his career arguably came when he was a set up man for Kerry Wood. This was during the 2007 and 2008 seasons, Marmol’s first full years in the Majors. The Dominican featured a 1.43 ERA in 2007 and in both seasons had a WHIP that hovered on both sides of 1.00.

Marmol’s numbers began to inflate in 2009 when he took the closer’s job from Kevin Gregg, and despite 30 plus save seasons in 2010 and 2011, his walks per nine innings continued to hover over 5.8. Marmol’s stint as the set up man last season got him on track for a solid second half, but it may be that non do or die role that better suits him than the last man standing mentality a closer needs. It can be argued that the saves he racked up in later months of the 2012 season were less stressful knowing the team was not in contention for a playoff spot.

There has been some talk by the media and amongst fans that Marmol has hit so low that it may be worth just eating the remaining money his contract and cutting him loose. If that is the case, there should be no argument to potentially find the right role for Marmol; set up man. Would he be one of the most overpaid set up men in MLB? Sure. But if you’re willing to go as far as accepting him as a roster cut, paying him ridiculous money to be a set up man should not be a complaint.

At this rate Marmol certainly does not figure into the Cubs plans for 2014 and beyond. Despite a meltdown of his own tonight, Fujikawa appears to be the closer in waiting when Theo Epstein and Company signed him this off season. The Cubs might as well figure out if the man from Japan can do the job in 2013, allowing them to consider other options this off season if the conclusion ends up being no. Meanwhile the set up role should allow Marmol to regain confidence and at least minimal trade value as a set up man come July.

Those of you wishing the Twitter failed trade of Marmol for Dan Haren should think again. The Diamondbacks ended up letting Haren walk anyway, which would have allowed the Cubs to sign him directly if desired. That was before the batting practice Haren threw in a regular season game the other day for the Nationals.

Unless the Cubs plan on gifting a job for the unemployed Lovie Smith and have the former Bears coach repeat to the Chicago media game after game that “Carlos is our closer”, the time has come to do both Marmol and the team a favor and return the beleagured Cubs closer to the better suited set up role. This names Fujikawa as the default closer and goes along with the long term plan of building a contender for the near future.