I know that this pretty much would never, ever happen, it's about as likely as me finding a Beatles song that I don't like. But yesterday over at Bleed Cubbie Blue, SBN's Cubs blog, a post was written about the idea of moving Carlos Zambrano to the closer role to fix their bullpen. The argument was essentially that acquiring an outside closer would be too costly in terms of prospects and money (which is fairly true), moving Zambrano there would cost them nothing that they haven't already committed to, Zambrano's no longer an ace, and Zambrano could transition quite nicely to the bullpen.
As a Cubs fan, I can't help make a quick response to this post. Now, this might be a good idea, except for three big problems that I see. Number one, nobody wants to pay roughly $18M per year for someone to pitch 60-80 innings. Number two, Zambrano is still pretty valuable as a starter even if he isn't an ace. Number three, it's not like the Cubs are flush with quality starting pitching.
On the first point, even the very, very best closers in the game, the guys that make you say, "Aw, crap.." when they're called in from the pen, aren't worth more than $10-12M per year. If Zambrano's pitching from the bullpen, there's almost no way that he ends up being worth close to the $53.75M that he's owed through 2012.
And frankly, even if he's no longer their best pitcher, Zambrano's still a pretty solid starter. Even with the declining groundball rates, he's been worth at least 2.8 fWAR in every season that he's been in the majors, and he actually pitched better in 2009 than he had in a couple years. Yeah, he's no longer the horse that was routinely a 4-5 WAR pitcher, but he's still a very good No. 2-3 starter, and his struggles this season have come a good deal from some weak command and not so good luck.
Al Yellon, the writer of the post, mentions that when Ted Lilly comes off the DL, they'll be stuck with the decision of having to move either Tom Gorzelanny or Carlos Silva to the bullpen. But Silva has pitched too well to be demoted, and moving Gorzelanny to the bullpen would leave the bullpen with just three right-handed pitchers, which apparently would be a problem. My problem, though, is that Zambrano is still clearly a better option for the rotation than the inconsistent Gorzelanny and Mr. Silva, who's, well, Carlos Silva.
At this point, Ryan Dempster is probably Chicago's best pitcher, Randy Wells has continued to be surprisingly good, and there's little reason to believe that Lilly can't post another FIP in the 3.9-4.3 range. Silva and Gorzelanny have been pleasant surprises so far and at this point, Zambrano has been their worst starter so far. But Silva won't continue to pitch this well, we don't know how well Lilly will pitch coming off surgery, and Gorzelanny has just been so damn inconsistent since 2007.
The Cubs do need some help in their bullpen, there's no doubt. I suppose that's what happens when you commit to John Grabow as your set-up man, your closer could easily be confused with Rick Vaughn like half of the time, and your two best young relievers (Esmailin Caridad and Angel Guzman) go down with injuries. But moving Zambrano to the bullpen would be a knee-jerk reaction that would likely create a bigger hole in the rotation than they currently have, and we all know that no team makes it through an entire season using just five starters. If the Cubs want to make a run towards the playoffs, they do have some things to figure out with their bullpen. But moving Carlos Zambrano to closer will do more bad than good.