The Chicago Cubs are effectively paying Chris Volstad $18 million this season. That’s because, when they swapped a year of Carlos Zambrano for a year of Volstad earlier this Winter, the Cubs agreed to pay the difference in the pitchers’ salaries.

Even at such a steep price, there’s no guarantee that Volstad will be one of the Cubs’ five starting pitchers. There are statistical reasons to believe Volstad could put together a good year, and I’m fairly optimistic about his future, despite a muddied past. The big, 25-year-old righty is facing a crowded rotation competition, however, that features Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm already locked into three spots, and Travis Wood, Randy Wells, Jeff Samardzija, Casey Coleman, and Andy Sonnanstine, among other longer shots, duking it out for the final two spots.

But, Volstad’s already got at least one big supporter: his new pitching coach, Chris Bosio. From the Sun-Times:

In Volstad, the Cubs see a power pitcher whose potential barely has been tapped in 31/2 seasons with his hometown Marlins.

‘‘The upside of this guy is phenomenal,’’ pitching coach Chris Bosio said. ‘‘Being able to find young pitchers with that kind of size and that kind of stuff, that’s a needle in a haystack. The kid’s a beast out there. And he does fill up a doorway walking through a room.’’ …

‘‘I definitely don’t think I’ve pitched to my ability,’’ said Vol­stad, who has been one of Bosio’s most serious students in camp. ‘‘I think I’ve shown flashes of it, games here and there, and maybe a little streak here and there. But I haven’t put a whole season together yet, and I ­really think I can.’’ …

Despite having an imposing frame similar to Zambrano’s and borrowing Zambrano’s annual tradition of seeking a new start, Volstad seems nothing like Big Z. He’s almost conspicuously quiet, focused and keeps what Bosio calls an ‘‘internal burn’’ to himself.

‘‘This kid’s got a big arm, a lot of potential,’’ Bosio said. ‘‘Hey, we traded a guy that’s 40 games over .500 for this kid. Chris can only control what Chris can do. Right now, I’m very happy with where he’s at in spring and the way he’s going about his work. I can only imagine what the capabilities of his stuff are if we’re able to harness that.’’

It seems worth reminding ourselves at every turn that Volstad broke into the big leagues at just 21-years-old, after just a couple full seasons of minor league ball. He’s clearly still developing, and it’s great to hear how voraciously he’s trying to learn now that he’s come to the Cubs.

Volstad knows he doesn’t have a rotation spot locked up, and that drive to “earn it” can sometimes push a young player just enough past his own talent that everything clicks. Talent, alone, doesn’t get you very far in the bigs, and Volstad sounds like someone who’s eager to do everything else necessary to succeed.

And the good news is that Volstad already has the “talent” part in spades.

  • art

    wouldn’t it be nice to get one for a change! i’m rooting for the kid.

  • James

    Remember Greg Maddux took a while to have a complete season…..then when he did, he went nuts. Another Cub rooting for Chris!

  • Fishin Phil

    I would love to see him put it all together!

  • Jeremy

    I’m hoping he can rebound and be a huge contributor for the Cubs! He has good stuff! On a side note, does anyone know if Castro, Soriano and Lake have reported to camp yet?

  • Dave H

    Go get’em Chris. You have one more Cub fan rooting for you!

  • butlerdawgs

    I have a feeling this will be a break out year for a few of the young guys on the team, Volstad included.

    • MichiganGoat

      The real measure will be if he out performs Z, if he can get 14 wins with an ERA on the low end of 4 he will be a huge success. Unless Z goes all Cy Young in Miami.

      • JasonB

        Is “going all Cy Young in Miami” a new way to say “do something stupid to alienate teammates”?  If so, then I agree with you. If it’s the other thing, then I don’t see it unless the league average ERA jumps to 5.50 this year.

        Excited about Volstad – if he figures out lefties and holds onto his skill gains from last year, we acquired a heckuva pitcher.

  • ferrets_bueller

    I’m still putting my money on Volstad’s struggles being of the young Brandon Webb variety. Change of scenery, and a better defense behind him, should help him live up to his former top prospect status, and the great promise he showed as a rookie.

    • TWC

      “… and a better defense behind him …”

      And you’re thinking that’s the 2012 Cubs?

      • ferrets_bueller

        Have you seen Hanley Ramirez play SS, Dan Uggla play 2B (08-10), and whoever they trot out at 3B play defense? Not pretty. This Cubs D, as it stands, is miles ahead.

        • TWC

          Perhaps, but didn’t the Marlins have one of the top 5 defenses last year?  Weren’t the Cubs, like, last?

          • Brett

            Maybe. But Volstad’s FIP and xFIP were far better than his ERA, which suggests that his defense didn’t help him much.

            • ferrets_bueller

              Which is compounded by the fact that he’s a groundball pitcher. Which is made even worse by the fact that, like the young Webb, he appears to have begun factoring the poor defense into what he throws, and trying to pitch around guys instead of getting grounders, which in turn makes his performance even worse, as he’s no longer playing to his strengths…

            • TWC

              That may be the case, but I have a hard time understanding how the Stewart/Castro/Barney/LaHair combo is going to provide that much more help.  I’m hopeful, mind you, just not that optimistic.

              • Deer

                I’d be shocked if the Cubs don’t finish bottom 5 in defense. LaHair is average at best at 1B and those who expect a big difference at 3rd will be disappointed.

                • Brett

                  I don’t expect the Cubs’ defense to be better than average (with the current roster, anyway), but I think we’ll notice a healthy upgrade at 3rd.

                  • ferrets_bueller

                    and the Kid at SS has the potential to develop into a Gold Glover.

                    • Deer

                      We’re talking about 2012, and u know that isn’t happening this year. Anyway, we’ll see.

                    • ferrets_bueller

                      It could. Look at Alexei- he went from being below average to being robbed of a gold glove by the Jeter BJ squad in just one year.

              • bluekoolaidaholic

                The Stewart/Castro/Barney/LaHair combo are just learning to play together, geez, give them a break. For all we know they could all turn into gold glovers.

                • KidCubbie

                  Could be the next Tinkers, to Evers, to Chance.

              • MichiganGoat

                There are too many if that have to happen in order for the Cubs to have a top defense:
                1-Castro has to pull a 180 because LaHair won’t save as much as Pena did
                2-Barney (which the best defensive starter on the field) has to hit enough to justify a starting job. I fear he will struggle offensively this year.
                3-Same for Stewart and LaHair can they hit enough to justify a starting job
                4-If Barney, Stewart, and LaHair can’t hit to justify their jobs, who replaces them and will that player be an defensive improvement. The only one I see as being a major defensive improvement is Rizzo at 1B.

                Major questions than answers on this team. I am exciting on the direction this team is headed but I’m not expecting much. I burned myself last year by believing in ifs and won’t make this mistake this year.

                • hansman1982

                  ok, seriously guys, can we stop being realistic about this 2012 squad and just allow unfettered optimism?

                  • TWC

                    I think we have a good chance to win the division.  The additional Wild Card spot can only benefit us.


                    • Spencer

                      I expect 2012 to be the start of the Cubs’ run of back-to-back-to-back World Series victories.

                    • hansman1982

                      No, Spencer’s response is better…

                      I actually sincerely doubt that any other team will ever win the World Series again, at least until they disband the Cubs franchise and ship the parts to the four-corners of the earth – Miami, Baltimore, Houston and the south-side of Chicago where each team will then become dynasties and for 100 years no team other than these 4 will win the World Series becoming a tyrannical alliance ruling over all the other MLB teams until, out of the ashes of Wrigley Field, a new franchise is born on the north side that will slay the 4 and restore order to the force.

                  • MichiganGoat

                    Sure Cubs win WS, Volstad for Cy Young, Barney got MVP, Wrigley Field becomes self-aware and remodels itself, all FA sign a blank contrat Andre Dawson type deal, and Theo cures cancer. It’s good to dream.

          • hansman1982

            According to UZR they were middle of the pack at -5.5 and the Cubs were a statistical blip behind them at -9.5. Using UZR/150 it was -.4 (Marlins) to -1.4 (Cubs).

            The Diamondbacks were #1 at 55.8 while the Mets were last at -59.7. UZR/150 had the Rays (8.8) and the Mets (-9.5).

            • TWC

              ::shakes fist at the sky::

  • Katie

    I’m hopeful for him too. Wouldn’t it be great if he was a superstar this year and Z and Ozzie broke each others jaws?

    • cubsnivy56

      Ummm…………………that would be awesome!

    • Eric

      And go out for dinner afterwards?

    • JulioZuleta

      The Sun Times had an article yesterday where Ozzie was talking about how he’s going to keep Zambrano “in his cage”. I can’t remember who wrote it, but they treated Ozzie as if he was some respected voice of reason who will help keep a misbehaving child in line. I realllllly hope that chemistry experiment blows up.

      • Brian

        Better his cage than the Cubs doghouse!

        • Katie

          I have a group of friends who has a pool going in how long it takes for those two to comes to blows. We also had to pick who wins: Animal, vegetable or mineral (Z, Ozzie, inanimate object). $5 entry, winner take all!

          • MichiganGoat

            You mean 5 bottle caps, right? :)

  • kevin 3000

    I remember watching him carve up the cubs something terrible a few years back at wrigley, thinking he was a star on the rise, and then he kind of just went away.

    • HoustonTransplant

      Ha, there were lots of “young,” “new,” or “unheard of” pitchers that have had the Cub’s number the last few years! I remember several occasions that just drove me nuts; lack of plate discipline and all that…blah, blah…

      But hopefully this guy was actually legit and he can have some real success this year. That would be spectacular!

      • die hard

        he also could be a catalyst to spur Wells, Smardzjia and others on staff last year to do better. Have no problem as to his cost as Z had to go.

  • Edwin

    I just can’t get that optimisitic about Volstad. At best, he’s a 5th starter. Most likely, he’s a AAA depth guy. I’d love for him to find that missing piece and turn into a good pitcher, but that almost never happens. Players don’t typically get to the bigs, and then figure things out. They either have it by now, or they don’t.

    Getting Volstad was more about getting rid of Zambrano than anything else. Right now I think Zambrano will probably be more valuable this upcoming season than Volstad.

    • hansman1982

      Cliff Lee

      • Edwin

        Zach Duke

      • Edwin

        Cliff Lee had 1 bad year when he turned 24, had 2 very good years, a terrible injury year, and then went on to dominate ever since.

        Volstad had 1/2 a good season when he first came up, and has had 3 bad seasons. I don’t see the similarity.

        • hansman1982

          It took him a few years in the majors of being average before something clicked and he became a stud. While Volstad will never be Cliff Lee, it is still entirely possible that something clicks and he becomes a solid rotation option.

    • ferrets_bueller

      No, at best, he’s a number 2 starter. At worst, he’s what he is right now- a 5 or AAA guy. He’s at his floor. His ceiling is Brandon Webb.

      • hardtop

        2006 cy young award winner brandon webb? id be happy with that 😉

        i appreciate that this guy has some upside, and im hopeful that we see a marked improvement, but i not expecting it.  i kind of  agree with edwins original thought that it was more about getting a body in the rotation to replace zambrano (that wasn’t ro-lo or douggy d), than some strategery centered aroud volstad.  the marlins were the most likley home for Z due to his venezuelan vato,  and Chris is what they had to give.

        i really like him and i hope he does well…. its more fun to root for guys you like, and hard to like guys that you cant root for (koyie hill).

        and really hard to root for well rounded shit heads like milton bradley…

  • hansman1982

    Interestingly enough, Volstad is most similar (according to to Jeff Weaver, the same Jeff Weaver that was traded during his age 25 season after starting with a low 3 ERA. It was the only time in his career that he did that. Talk about selling at the right time.

    • ferrets_bueller

      There’s not really much of a comparison between the two other than age 24 stats, though.

  • cccubfan

    I would love to see the rotation round out as Garza, Maholm, Dempster, Volstad and T. Wood…That would win some games. I love to look at outlooks and stats and try to imagine and predict but this is just going with my gut. The Cubs are not going to be as bad as most think. That’s not just my usual “wait til next year” mentality either. I am thinking, no expectations…look out!!! We got a young hungry team waiting to bust loose….

  • Matt

    I really liked the Cubs picking this kid up. Their defense probably won’t help him too much unless Castro’s defense has suddenly grown by leaps and bounds and Soriano is replaced at some point in the season. However, a good pitcher can make a defense look better as well.

    Either way, he’s still very young and has the physical makeup of a very good pitcher. It’s all about getting those pitches right and having the right mindset.

  • Featherstone

    While I know this is semantics I’d much rather prefer it worded “we paid volstad 3 million to pitch for us and zambrano 15 million to pitch for someone else.” I appreciate Z’s time with the Cubs (for the most part) but I am glad to see him gone

  • Noah

    I view Chris Volstad through the same light I’m viewing Ian Stewart. The Cubs are taking a chance on two formerly highly rated prospects in their first year of arbitration. If neither of them amount to anything, it’s not a big deal and they can both just be non-tendered heading into 2013. If either of them turns around to meet their potential, it’s a big win. If both of them do, the Cubs have hit the jackpot.

    • Adventurecizin’ Justin

      Right on, Noah! And, I’m rootin’ for ’em because we need some diamonds in the rough!

  • Andrewmoore4isu

    What will the crowd be like first time Z trots out to theound at wriggled for Miami? Personally
    If Im there I will cheer and home he throws 7 scoreless gets te ND and
    Cubs win.

  • cubsin

    I’d rather see him body-slam Ozzie into the Gatorade cooler.

  • Jeff Wise

    I would listen to Bosio because he knows what he’s talking about most of the time. I also have a soft spot for him because I’m an M’s fan and he was a really good player.

  • MichCubFan

    Bosio sounds pretty good…i hope he can make a difference for our pitching staff in the next few years.

    I also like what we got in Volstad.

    This team is being built in a way that was mentioned in Moneyball (the book)…

    Look at DeJesus and Stewart, they were not too high on anyone else’ radar because they had rough injury riddled seasons last year…even though they had some sort of success before that.
    Then look at Travis Wood, Paul Maholm, and Chris Volstad. They were all overlooked or undervalued as well but also have a good amount of talent amongst themselves.
    Now of course these guys aren’t all sure things but we have enough depth that we will be able to fill any holes that develop in some way.
    I am excited to see how things go through spring training and then into the season…

  • http://bleachernation loyal100more

    how much easier is it to root for a guy…when if he isnt any good we can just sent packing without any real financial complications. come on big v!!! know that at 3M and a rebuilding mentality that if you dont put it together youll be looking for a new job. heck at that price we dont even need to boo him… we can just let him go. and id say the same goes for ian stewart, brian lahair, darwin barney,jeff baker, and paul maholm. in that regard i love the low risk gamble cookie cutter players. heres to the dreams of being competative on refugee upside alone! it can happen and it has happened before.

  • Matt

    I’ll never forget when Bosio threw that no hitter. I’m wondering if it had to do with him coming right after Clemens in the rotation and throwing off hitters. You had a tall, skinny, hard throwing lefty out there, and then the next night you had a comparitively (6’3″) shorter, more stocky guy who was more of a finesse pitcher. Then again, it also was greatly due to his actual ability to pitch, because if it wasn’t he would’ve done that every time he went out there.

  • SouthernCub

    Brett, where is it mentioned officially that Maholm is one of the 5 SP for the rotation? (“…..that features Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm already locked into three spots.”)

    • Brett

      Sveum said it this week.

  • ferrets_bueller

    I really hope it ends up


    • JustSwain

      That seems the most likely, and actually…when you put it down on paper…Thats not such a horrible rotation, is it?

      • MichiganGoat

        It’s a fine rotation IF the if go as we hope:
        1-If Garza continues his dominance
        2-if Maholm stays healthy
        3-If Demp does break down and can pitch 180 innings
        4-if Volstad and Wood make considerable progress.

      • ferrets_bueller

        Especially if Volstad does improve, even to half of his potential- which would make him a 3. Thats one ace in Garza, a trio of 3s in Dempster, Maholm, and Volstad, and a 4 in Wood.

        Not bad at all.

        • Deer

          Can you try to be just a little objective? Quite the optimist u are.

      • HuskerCub

        Although I love Dempster, if Samardzija looks good in spring training I would rather see a rotation of Garza, Maholm, Wood, Volstad and Samardzija, with Wells the next guy in line to start. I think it would help the club prepare for 2013 to utilize the younger guys over an aging Dempster. Dempster is a sunk cost and could help solidify the bullpen with Carpenter gone.

        • Bric

          Maybe i just hold a grudge but something about Samardjia just rubs me the wrong way and I just don’t see a future between him and the Cubs. I’d rather see him suck in his first few spring training starts and the Cubs unload him for a low level minor leaguer. He’ll then be able to go onto a hopefully fruitful career on some team in the AL.

          I don’t have anything against him personally I just think there’s too much drama and back story for him to overcome. I know it’ll seem like we just gave a good pitcher for very little but it’s better than the agonizing question marks we’ll go through again after he gets drilled in his first five starts. Sometimes guys just need a change of scenery.

        • hansman1982

          Wow, you speak of Dempster as if he is cold garbage. While he didn’t have a good year last year, he had good years the previous 3 and any move out of the rotation absolutely “Death Star’s” any trade value he has. Also, even in a bad year he still gave us 200 innings. That is a very valuable contribution as well.