Ding Dong, Z is Gone
Well the big bad Zambrano has finally been traded away from the Cubs. Paul Sullivan and far too many Cubs fans may bust a hip at the grave dancing party. While I understand the move from the Cubs perspective, it's unfortunate that a player with such a great Cubs career had to end his Cubbie days like this. He may have been off his mental rocker, but he was damn good on the pitching mound and at the plate over 11 seasons to a tune of 125-81, an ERA+ of 122 and 3 Silver Slugger awards. The more recent down years, injury hiccups and temper tantrums may burn the brightest in our memories, but Z was doing the heavy lifting all those years the Cubs were waiting for Prior and Wood to get healthy. Could he have been better these last few years? Maybe, but I'm not gonna preach from the safety of my Internet connection on how an adult should behave himself so that it satiates my moral compass. He was what he was and part of what infuriated us, may be the same parts that helped him be so good on a baseball field. I for one will greatly miss watching him play, because it was clear he was having a lot of fun out there.
But his time with the Cubs has passed, if for no other reason that JedStein wants to start fresh and it did seem that his last episode not only pissed off the fans, but even his teammates. His days of a 200 innings a season have faded with the memories of 2007 along with the velocity on his fastball. I certainly could see him still putting up some decent seasons, but a fresh start with a new club and a new manager is probably the best setting for a career rejuvenation at the moment.
The towering 6-8" right hander will be playing his age 25 season next year. The Marlins 1st round pick in 2005 out of high school (16th overall), he rose to as high as the 40th best prospect in all of baseball before the 2007 season according to Baseball America. Kevin Goldstein had him as the Marlins #2 prospect(4-star) before the 2008 season behind Cameron Maybin.
The Good: Volstad paints the strike zone with outstanding command of a three-pitch mix. His fastball sits at 89-91 mph and features a little bit of sink and a heavy downward plane because of his big frame, which also allows him to maintain his stuff deep into games. Both his curveball and changeup are above-average pitches, and he approaches his craft with the maturity of a veteran.
The Bad: Volstad is a bit of a mismatch; a finesse pitcher in a power pitcher's body. As effective as he can be, he doesn't have a true swing-and-miss offering, and it's hard to project him as any kind of star because of it. He focuses a bit too much on throwing strikes at times, and some feel he could be more effective by occasionally mixing in chase pitches.
Perfect World Projection: A valuable pitcher who delivers 200+ innings annually with above-average productivity.
Volstad reached the majors that year at age 21 and went 6-4 with a 2.88 ERA...Hall of Fame, here we come!
Instead reality hit, and Volstad has gone 26-35 with a 4.88 ERA over the last 3 years, which in the pitching friendly Joe Robbie Stadium or whatever it was last called, amounted to a pathetic 84 ERA+. For some perspective, Z and Dempster put up ERA+'s of 81 this last season. Gadzooks!
So obviously the Cubs are counting on his upside more than his recent performance. The aforementioned Goldstein had him as the Marlins 5th best player under the age of 25 the other day, accompanied with this promising sentence: Volstad is a fantastic sleeper selection for 2012 as he learns how to be a groundball pitcher. His ERA was up in 2011, but his walks were down, his strikeouts were up, and there is still a ceiling there.
A quick look at Fangraphs pitch values shows that hitters are teeing off his fastball, with his curveball having the most success. He throws that sinking fastball about 60% of the time and it must be pretty damn hittable. He'll either need to improve his offspeed stuff or hope for a much better defense behind him.
Overall, I can't say I like the deal, if for no other reason than Z was always entertaining to watch and it's hard to imagine Volstad will be any better over the next 3 years than Z would be next season, although it's certainly possible he could be as good considering his age and tools. The trade does seem to fit the plan of trading short term assets for long term assets and here's hoping the new Cubs brass is seeing something that can be fixed on Volstad that the Marlins weren't able to pinpoint. And to get anything for Z with teams knowing he was on the brink of being released, especially when that anything is young and still has potential brewing under the surface, is a trick in and of itself.
Hopefully for their next act, JedStein can tranform Soriano into a few prospects and save a few million.
UPDATE: As part of the deal, Z not only waived his no-trade clause but also the vesting option for 2013 if he finished in the top 4 of the Cy Young vote. He also got back 24 days of pay from his 30-day suspension last year, somewhere around the vicinity of $2.4M. The Marlins will pay him $100K if he wins Comeback Player of the Year in 2012.