After physicals and a rubberstamp approval of the money changing teams, Carlos Zambrano will be a Miami Marlin and Chris Volstad will be a Chicago Cub.

Ultimately, what I’ve been asking myself since last night is this: who would I rather have on the Chicago Cubs in 2012? Carlos Zambrano or Chris Volstad? It’s close, but I just can’t bring myself to say Zambrano. Throw in a little big of money saved (after Volstad’s arbitration raise is taken out of the $3ish million the Cubs saved in the deal), Volstad’s three years of control, and theoretical upside, and I guess it’s a good deal. It certainly doesn’t knock your socks off like the Marshall trade (well, my socks, anyway), but this looks like, at worst, a wash. And a wash that removes a potentially toxic element from the clubhouse?

That’s a win.

But, about that Volstad fellow. Is he someone to get excited about? Could he adequately replace Zambrano’s production in 2012? Is he another bounce-back candidate?

First, the plain numbers: Volstad’s ERA over the past three years has been an ugly 5.21, 4.58, and 4.89, and his ERA+ was just 82, 91, and 80. His WHIP has stayed above 1.410, and his K/9 hasn’t been much better than 6.0 (though it did improve in 2011). His BB/9, on the other hand, has generally been both good and consistently improving – 3.3, 3.1, and 2.7 over the last three years. He’s just a dude who gets hit a whole lot, giving up more than a hit per inning. That leads to plenty of runs given up. And in 2011, an abnormally high number of those hits were homers, so the run situation was even worse.

The advanced statistics tell a slightly more encouraging story about Volstad’s past and future, though.

Volstad’s FIP (an ERA-like stat that tries to take the defense behind you out of the equation (i.e., if you’ve got a crappy defense behind you, your ERA is going to be higher because they don’t make as many good plays for you)) has improved each of the last three years, culminating in an ok-ish 4.32 in 2011. His xFIP (which is like FIP, but it takes home run rate out of the equation on the theory that a pitcher’s home run rate fluctuates wildly from year to year, without much predictive value) was an even better 3.64, good for 18th in the NL. In addition to an unusually high home run rate last year, Volstad’s BABIP against was .310, versus a career .295 mark. In other words, the advance stats paint the picture of a decent pitcher (not good – just decent) who was pretty unlucky in 2011. In 2009 and 2010, however, he was just bad.

Setting aside the numbers, there are a number of reasons for optimism.

Volstad is just 25, an age at which many pitchers are in their first or second years in the bigs (for reference, Andrew Cashner is 12 days older than Volstad). The righty is also a physical beast, coming in at 6’8″ and 230 lbs. He was a first round pick in 2005 out of high school, and rocketed through the minors to make his big league debut in 2008, after just two full minor league seasons (for a kid out of high school, that’s very, very impressive).

On the contract side of things, Volstad is in his first year of arbitration eligibility (some thought he was at risk of being non-tendered in December, but that had more to do with a misperception of the Marlins’ financial situation than it did with Volstad’s ability), so the Cubs have him under control through 2014, assuming they choose to keep tendering him a contract after 2012. That’s a plus.

I don’t want to create unrealistic expectations here. While there are reasons to be *hopeful* for a Volstad rebound and, then, further development, expecting him to be more than a passable number five starter is setting yourself up for disappointment. Volstad has been healthily below average for three years straight, and, while he only just turned 25 in September, that means something. If you want context, the chances Travis Wood is a quality piece for the Cubs in 2012 and beyond is much greater than the chance Volstad is.

In the end, the Cubs picked up another nice bounce-back candidate in Chris Volstad. He’ll likely be handed the 5th starter job out of Spring Training, depending on what happens with the rest of the rotation, and is a nice lottery ticket for the Cubs – one that comes with a lot less risk of clubhouse implosion than the lottery ticket the Cubs sent to the Marlins.

  • The Other Matt

    Brett, I don’t know if I’ve ever said this, but you do an outstanding job, and BN is my primary source of Cubs information. I’ve recommended it to all of my Cub fan friends, and just wanted to give you my explicit seal of approval. Thanks for your hard work.

    • Brett

      Thanks, TOM.

    • Eric

      2nd that, especially the kind laymen’s terms for these advanced statistics, teaching someone like me about them without sounding snobbish about it. So tyvm!

  • Andy

    IMO it will be the best move to keep Garza around for the start of the season. If he pitches well, his optimal trade value will be right before the trade deadline. It seems the “bidding war” for him right now has worn itself out. There will be a handful of teams bidding for his services for a playoff run.

    And hell, who knows, maybe the Cubs will be in a playoff run themselves! A man can dream right?

  • this old cub 2

    Nice info on Volstad, Brett. I will miss Big Z at the plate and running the bases, but he overstayed his welcome. Like others, hope he does well except against the Cubs.
    Given his size, I guess now we root for “Big Chris”!

    • Ol’CharlieBrown

      From Big Z to Big V…

  • Jonski

    Brett I agree and something worth pointing out is that in 2008 he was just 21 years old had a decent debut season and then began going through bumps and bruises instead of sending him down they let him stay up.The other point is that in 4 years times he had what 4 different managers and how many different pitching coaches …..thats a whole lot of change for a kid and I guess my point is no matter how in consistant the Cubs maybe if we were to compare that to Z he has only had 2 different pitching coaches in his career Larry Rothchilds and Mark Riggens Maybe im reaching ,but a new coach and a change of scenery might change his fortunes!

  • WGNstatic

    5th starter?
    Wait, I thought that was Wood, or wait, I thought it was Wells, no, wait, I thought it was Dempster.


    • ferrets_bueller

      IMO, Wood is a 4 with the potential to be a 3. Wells is a 5. Volstad is…a 5/6 with the potential to be a 3.

      • Luke

        Wells is a 5, except when he is pitching well, when he’s a 3. The latter part of last season, after Dempster took over as his pitching coach, he was closer to a 3 than a 5.

        But even a 5 is better than a Doug Davis.

      • Jonski

        IMO they trade Wells and Dempster and make Garza the ace unless they get the mother load for him!

      • WGNstatic

        Really, you see Travis Wood, as is, as a #4 starter? I am not saying he doesn’t have upside, could be as high as a #2, but he was pretty bad last year at both the MLB and AAA levels.

  • Cody

    @Andy Yeah, that’s about all you can do is dream.

  • Luke

    Volstad is also a ground ball pitcher. That should work well in Wrigley, especially if they let the grass grow out a bit. His number are somewhat better in day games than at night, which could be another good sign.

    • RoughRiider

      He sure gives up a lot of goffer balls.

  • dob2812

    Gotta disagree with you on the Wood comment, Brett. Volstad has better control and gets a lot more ground balls. Seems to be me that there’s a significant chance that Volstad rather than Wood is good for an extended period of time. As of right now, I think you could argue he’s the third best starter the Cubs have, and that’s including Garza.

    I’ll bet Andy Sonnanstine is looking forward to that major league money.

    Definitely agree that you take Volstad over Zambrano for 2012. People are talking about the upside with Z if he rebounds to the previous heights, but we’ve been saying that for three years now. He just cleared 30 and had the worst season of his career in 2011. There’s not a lot to dream on there. If I was a Marlins fan I would be scratching my head on this one (which doesn’t mean I think the Cubs robbed them of anything, I just don’t understand why they bothered).

  • MoneyBoy

    Brett – As ever, a very fair review of what has been – to now – a very ordinary pitcher.  How in the world a guy like him gets an arb figure of $2-something million <smh>   Wells, IMO, had a much better year and if it’s my money I wouldn’t pay him anywhere near that – but if that’s what the market is – Wells should make considerably more than Volstad.   Ridiculous.   It’s no wonder that teams hold most of their players to their entry level number for so long.

    • Brett

      As to his projected arbitration raise, I’m writing up a long analysis of that very issue. The short version: I don’t really see how he could get more than $2 million.

      • King Jeff

        From looking at similar pitchers age and numbers wise, and from what the Marlins beat writers were writing when they were talking about offering him arbitration, I think he’s going to get right around 2 million, probably a little less.

  • Denny

    I think the Cubs brass could have taken my grandmother (whos ERA is just through the roof), a bag of chips and a case of beer for Zambrano and I’d still be happy with the deal.

    And who knows, maybe the mentality of a new, re-emerging franchise focused on long term success will be what Volstad needs to shake his mental demons and start throwing solid pitches consistently.

    • WGNstatic

      The chips and beer do not fit within the Cubs culture.

      • Diesel

        They were going to send the chips to KFC for a bucket of chicken and then send the chicken and beer to the Red Sox as compensation for Theo.

      • EQ76

        How about Fried Chicken & beer?

    • loyal100more

      i thought Z was gonna be the greens keeper pitch in the rotation play alittle first base and pinch hit… oh yea and sell beer in the stands…for 18M that sounded decent

  • realist

    As a lifelong fan, I’m just so happy that what is happening seems to be a real, REAL, rebuild. Finally. It looks like Theo, of course, is making sure he has at least competitive players filling the roles, like getting a Volstad instead of an A-baller for Z. Signing DeJesus. It really feels like the further rebuild is coming and will take a while. Patience huh?

  • BFM


    Great job covering all of this…….you do a great job!

    Now it seems as though the Cubs rotation consists of Dempster, Wells, Garza, Volstad, Wood, Cashner (probably in the pen) and Smarardizja.

    I don’t know if I’m missing anyone but here is the question.

    Does this move mean that Garza is off the market or that his price went up to ensure that we keep a key piece of the rotation?

    Any chance of going after another Free Agent like Maholm?

    Is the 40 man roster full? If so, how do they fit Kerry Wood on it?

    Thanks for all the work you do.


    • Brett

      40-man, indeed, remains full. More moves will have to be on the way.

      I don’t think this move really has any impact on the Cubs’ decision to deal or not deal Garza. Getting another starter will depend on what happens with Garza and Dempster, but, for now, that would be the rotation – with others like Coleman and Sonnanstine, among others, around for depth.

      • cccubfan

        I think they’ll keep Garza around now that Z is gone…thank goodness for that…and with him and Dempster at 1-2 we should be looking good. Wells and Smarardizja(or however you spell it) can fight out number 3. I would like to see Jeff at number 3 followed by Wood and Big V. With Bosio working with them I think they should be a pretty good rotation. No Philly rotation but good for the NL Central.

        • Luke

          Don’t count out the Triple A arms this year. Unlike last season, the Cubs do have some reinforcements lurking in Iowa. Searle, Rusin, Jackson, Coleman, and McNutt could all play a role by the end of the season.

          It isn’t a great rotation by any means, but it is decent and has upside. Not a bad place to start when rebuilding a team.

    • hardtop

      Oh my, reality check. Just when you thought the pitching couldn’t be any worse than last year… This list of throwaways, has beens, and never will bes slaps you in the face. Prediction, garza has more wins than the 3,4, and 5 spots combined…. At 12. It’s been a long time since I had this little enthusiasm going into January. Yuck

      • Luke

        This rotation is better than last year. No James Russell trying to start for a month. No Ortiz or Davis being brought in as emergency fill in starters. No Lopez.

        At least the Cubs should have five legit starters starting all season. That alone will be an improvement over the improvised train wreck that was the rotation last season. I still see a rotation that will keep the Cubs in most games and should allow the team to hang out in the 78 – 81 win neighborhood.

      • King Jeff

        I’m going to have to hit you with a little bit of reality about the pitching thing Hardtop. Last years back end starters stats as starting pitchers;

        Doug Davis:  6.50 era, 1.86 whip, 1 quality start, terrible

        Ramon Ortiz: 7.20 ear, 1.80 whip, no quality starts, even worse than terrible

        Rodrigo Lopez: 4.50 era, 1.49 whip, 4 quality starts, the best of the bunch by far

        Casey Coleman: 6.18 era, 1.75 whip, 3 quality starts, terrible most of the year

        and lest we forget: James Russell: 9.33 era!!!!!, 2.018 whip!!!!,  I almost didn’t even bother to look at his game logs to see if he had any quality starts, I looked anyway, and he only made it to the fourth inning twice in five starts.  Amazing that someone let him start five times.

        Wood and Volstad are easily better than any of those 5.  Garza/Dempster/Wells/Wood/Volstad/Samardzija/Sonnanstine/maybe Cashner later in the year.  They have built the rotation depth that they wanted, and we should never have to watch a train wreck like the beginning of last season again.

        • ferrets_bueller

          …and the end of last season. Oh…and the middle too!

        • Rick Vaughn

          This is absolutely how I feel. As long as Casey Coleman stays off the field, I’ll call the season a success no matter how many games we lose.

        • Scotti

          Jeff, the only reason any of those guys started games last year is because of injuries/retirement/whatever to the starting five (Garza, Zambrano, Dempster, Wells and Cashner). There is no way to predict that any of THIS year’s starting five won’t go down. While they may not be likely to go down after one start (Wells, Cashner) there is absolutely no telling what will happen. Further, counting on Garza and/or Dempster past the trading deadline–if that–is problematic. You could very well see a starting five by mid-season anchored (anchored!) by Wells.

  • DL Huyck

    Big Z needed to go getting anything of value in return is a bonus.

  • Kevin

    This trade was good for the Cubs. Volstad is a serviceable pitcher who at the least may be an innings eater in the rotation. And he’s 25 yrs old, which means he has room to grow, especially with the right pitching coach. Zambrano was done here at least 2 yrs ago. I like the approach of eating most of the contract to rid the Cubs of clubhouse problems. I’d like to see the Cubs get a pitcher like Paul Maholm to round out their rotation. Garza, Dempster, T.Wood, Volstad and Maholm would sound pretty good to me. They could do a hell of a lot worse.

  • Rooster

    BPV that high and sabermeteric fans are happy. He was UNLUCKY last year. His era should not be that high. Correct his issues with lefties and he’s not an innings eater. Cmon people, let’s hear it for Ron Shandler!

  • polocubs

    i am liking the direction – getting younger and trying to improve the chemistry. theo is getting rid of the bad contracts and setting us up for some bigger moves in the near future. he is bringing in high upside players who, if they dont pan out, give us minimal loss. we have new management, new coaches, and young potentially good players. give this management and coaches a chance with these players and see if their potential can be recognized. it should be very interesting to watch

  • gratefulled

    Regarding Volstad, does anyone know what kind of stuff he has? I’ve noticed some people saying he is a ground ball pitcher. Does that mean that he’s got a splitter, change, or just keeps the ball down? The dude looks like a beast on the mound, but can he get his heater in the mid 90’s?

    • King Jeff

      His fastball is in the low 90’s, when he’s good, it’s a sinking fastball, and he throws a pretty nice curve.  He goes deep into the count too much, but when his control is good, the game moves fast with a lot of quick ground ball outs.  Unless the Cubs infield defense improves this year, I’m not sure how much success he’s going to have as a ground ball pitcher.

      • Eric

        Hey maybe this went into the thinking. Groundball pitcher, more much needed practice during game situations for Castro to improve. :)

  • rbreeze

    I love this deal.  It relieves the clubhouse of one negative, Zambra-NO.  Now we need to get rid of the other negative, Soria-NO.  As Theo said many times before, you need to know who your 7, 8 and 9 starters are and we now have enough warm bodied candidates to get to at least 12.  We won’t have to subject ourselves and poor old  James Russell to being unprepared to pitch 5 innings again.  He can pitch in relief and do what he does best.  Give me a team that tries and breaks their butt to make positive things happen.  We may only win 60 or 65 games this year but I’ll take the mistakes of youth and effort over the lethargic play of the spoiled brats we have over paid for through the years. Maybe these misfits can win 70 or 75 games next year.  I’ve been a fan since the mid sixties.  Theo and Jed have reignited my love for the Cubs.  I was ready to jump ship after last years performance.  I’m ready for the rebirth of this team.  Go Cubs!!!

  • DublinCub

    Whatever about his diminishing on-field abilities, almost everything you hear about Soriano is that he’s quite a good guy to have in the clubhouse, and certainly not a “clubhouse negative” in the way way Z was seen.

  • Mick

    I’m glad Z is gone because although he has the experience and potential of a #2 SP, he was a bag of mixed nuts. This deal is brilliant for Theo because at least we got something for Z, I bet if the Marlins would’ve waited another month the Cubs would’ve cut him. I think Z burned too many bridges with his teammates and most importantly Ricketts.

    Taking a look at our rotation, eh… sure looks a whole lot worse now for some reason. The only shining light I can see is that we did get a bit younger and add depth with Volstad and Wood. As others have mentioned, at least we don’t have to watch Lopez, Ortiz, or Davis try and resurrect their careers.

    Finally, I don’t see this move having any effect on any other trade this off-season because I think the Cubs would’ve cut Z before they’d let him report to spring training. We may as well fully commit to this rebuilding effort and dump Dempster and Byrd for whatever we can get for them and heck is it too early to trade DeJesus? It’ll be a fight with Houston for the #1 pick this season.

    • RoughRiider

      Like it or not, there is seperation between players and coaches. Players will talk to other players about things that they won’t talk to coaches about. Having veteran players like Byrd and Dempster has more value than most people realize. Especially when you have a lot of younger players.

  • ncsujuri

    This is from Keith Law:

    The Cubs dealing Carlos Zambrano to the Marlins is an obvious change-of-scenery move, but Chicago gets back a pitcher who probably needs a fresh start of his own, and has youth and service time on his side.

    The Cubs’ side of this deal is easier to see, even with the substantial amount of money they’ll be paying Zambrano to pitch for the Marlins — a sunk cost of a reported $15 million for 2012 — because they’re swapping one year of a probably-declining Zambrano for three years of Chris Volstad, who has never lived up to the promise he offered as a high school senior. But Volstad offers something.

    He has an easy delivery and a great pitcher’s frame, at 6-foot-8 and 230 pounds, with good downhill plane on an average fastball that never saw the velocity jump many scouts (myself included) expected him to see in his early 20s. He’s a moderate groundball pitcher who threw a lot of sliders in 2011 without much success; his high arm slot seems wrong for that pitch, but Volstad has had trouble keeping his upper-70s curveball, a better fit for his arm slot, down in the zone. He has good arm speed on the changeup, but its velocity is too close to his fastball’s, part of the reason left-handed hitters lit him up in 2011 after hitting almost two-thirds of the homers he allowed in 2009-10.

    Volstad has also been durable and there are a few basic things the Cubs could do to try to increase his effectiveness. But even if they don’t he’ll be a good value this year until his salary jumps in his second year of arbitration.

    For the Marlins, this is a gamble on a pitcher who needs a major image overhaul in the final year of his contract, both in his behavior and in his performance. Zambrano was overused by Dusty Baker early in his career, averaging over 900 batters faced per year from ages 22 to 25, and since the last of those four seasons he hasn’t been the same pitcher. He’s lost 2-3 MPH off his fastball and hasn’t developed the command to pitch with that lower velocity. He’s also become less able to generate groundballs, and while he had success in 2011 with his 78-82 MPH slider, it’s not a plus pitch and breaks early out of his hand, so I’m skeptical of his ability to continue to get outs with it going forward.

    Zambrano might make the Marlins a win or so better in 2012, but that’s not enough to justify giving up three years of Volstad’s career, even if Volstad doesn’t improve over his performance to date.

  • Let’s Play Two

    My prediction is Z will not do well with the Ozzie one-man-circus, because, er… well Ozzie is a one-man-circus and creates a comedic environment with a personality vacuum dedicated daily to Ozzie.

    But the comment that you think the Marshall trade is a good one baffles me. I think Epstein is going to hide behind the youth movement. He lost his edge with all the crap going on in Boston and he is licking his wounds hoping his newly formed posse can help him work some magic at Addison & Clark. Theo has no plan yet and less money to spend (his real ace in Boston).

    Theo, everyone has a stat department now…what is your edge?

  • Jeff Jones

    Brett, Here is an anlogy of Zambrano–And overall I think it was a good deal–the early years of Theo found the hidden gems that provided the something extra all teams need.
    First lets stop stating how good Zambrano was the last 1 1/2- 2 years he averages 14-9
    3.60 era and a 1.39 whip. The Cubs are not getting field value for him but clubhouse value is a different story. Here is my analogy –Say you are walking barefoot on the beach and you step on a broken bottle you to the hospital and it is stitched and you go home. Now your foot is bothersome and hurts but you do what the doc wants, one day you see it is inflamed and has pus oozing out you go back to the doctor andhe again cleans it out and gives you more medicine. A couple of days later it is still discharging pus and blood and is turning black–Now you have 2 choices keep the foot and hope it heals even tho it shows signs of gangreen or cut the foot off and adjust to a new life without a foot.. For years now Z has been festering with the Cubs and showed no signs of improving. Time was to cut the clubhouse cancer out.

  • wiley coyote

    Wish we would of gotten bonfacio too to play left or third.

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