The big news out of Chicago the last couple of days is that Lou Piniella has pushed Carlos Zambrano to the bullpen. While this is shocking news isolated from all other Cubs' events of the past couple of seasons, taken in context with all the other stories and the news makes perfect sense. Zambrano will become the highest paid setup man in baseball and Piniella? Well, perhaps he'll feel better about himself for "sending the team a message."
Lou Pinella has had some success as a manager. His Mariners' teams of the past were legendary. But he has also thrown in the Tampa Bay years and from this faraway perch, Piniella simply hasn't handled the Cubs properly. His handling of the Bradley fiasco of a year ago was simply awful. Sure, Bradley brought a lot of it on himself, but Piniella didn't exactly help the cause. Piniella also hasn't handled Soriano very well either. First he let him lead off for far too long before the weight became so heavy that it nearly snapped the Cubs' necks and then he ineffectively deals with Soriano's occiasional lack of effort. And now we have Zambrano.
Zambrano doesn't seem like that bad a guy. He's sort of a Hispanic Joba Chamberlain with more success. He just has a lot of passion and he wears his emotions on his sleeve. Apparently, this has worn down Piniella's last nerve, which is ironic since Piniella was the same kind of player and then manager. It's funny that the manager cannot tolerate the same kind of behavior he himself exhibited countless times in his career.
First, let's take a look at the context. Ted Lilly is due to come off the disabled list. Gorzelanny, the epitome of an MLB journeyman is pitching well so far. Dempster is pitching well. Randy Wells in untouchable. Carlos Silva has been some sort of miracle and Zambrano has an ERA+ of 65. Add to that equation that the Cubs' bullpen has been just short of a disaster thus far and Zambrano is the odd man out, or the right man in the bullpen. Depends on how you look at it.
But here's the problem. There is no guarantee that Lilly will be effective out of the gate. There is no history to support Gorzelanny and Silva continuing their remarkable success. Marmol seems solid as the closer. Sean Marshall can be dominant and should be just fine as the set up guy. Russell is adequate and those should be your close game guys. Grabow is useful three out of every fourth outings. It's that fourth one that seems quite ugly. But limit him to LOOGY events for the most part and some mop up duty and he should be just fine. Why would you need Zambrano out there? Long relief is a mess. But how often would that be a problem?
Zambrano is a horse. He is a wild stallion at times and so he might run into some fences here and there, but the guy goes out there every year and gives you 200+ decent innings. Why mess with that? Why not start Lilly in the bullpen and earn his way back into the rotation after seeing how Gorzelanny and Silva fare down the road? If this is really about performance, we are only talking about one terrible start by Zambrano to open the season. He's been decent since and still leads the team in strikeouts. He'll be fine. Just give him the ball 32 times and he'll be good in 24 of them. That's all you can ask.
But no, that's not Piniella. That would make sense and he's more into being intense than into making sense. And the root word for, "intense" is "tense." And no better word describes the current mood of the Cubs after two years of drama. The Rockies learned last year what can happen when you replace a tense situation with a feel good guy like Jim Tracy. This Fan really feels like the Cubs need the same sort of breath of fresh air. The two problems here seem to be that Jim Hendry has no feel for building a winner and the talent that he has assembled can't take flight with the drama they are exposed to all the time.
Bring in a feel good guy who just lets the guys go out there and play and see what happens. It can't be any worse than the current results. While you're at it, bring up Sam Fuld and let him lead off and play every day and sit Fukodome. That way you have a feel good vibe for the whole team with Fuld's excitement and spunk giving a spark at the top of the line up.
What is obvious is that the Cubs in their current state are going nowhere. They are playing tighter than a kettle drum (ack! a hackneyed cliche!) and drama seems to follow them wherever they go. It's time for a change. In fact, it's long overdue.