Carlos Marmol is the Chicago Cubs’ closer.

While that may have been a debatable issue back in May, Marmol came back from a hamstring injury/get-your-head-straight-hiatus and looked like something better than a mere satisfactory closer in the final three months of the season (setting aside the fact that the Cubs didn’t give him too many games to close). So, as of today, he’s the guy.

But will he be in 2013? That remains a legitimate question, even if Marmol has put to bed one of the primary reasons for asking it. Now the he has regained confidence in his fastball, and, with it, his effectiveness, we ask whether he’ll be the Cubs’ closer in 2013 only because of his contract and the team’s expected level of play. Marmol will make $9.8 million in 2013, and will be a free agent thereafter. If the Cubs aren’t expecting to be truly competitive in 2013, a near $10 million closer is a luxury that could be better used as a trade piece. Eat enough salary, and Marmol actually has some trade value (I know – crazy, right?).

Patrick Mooney recently spoke to Chicago Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein on the Marmol situation, and Epstein offered candid praise of his closer, as well as thoughts on how the Cubs might replace him.

“When there’s something extreme early in the season, it dictates the narrative for the whole season,” Epstein said of Marmol’s rocky start in 2012. “I think it kind of went unnoticed nationally, just the extent to which this guy turned his year around and was really effective.”

In large part, Epstein attributes that turnaround to the return of Marmol’s fastball.

“Big punch-out rate, more strikes and then really significantly he did it in a completely different way,” Epstein said. “His fastball was really useable and really effective and that hasn’t been seen around here from him, maybe ever. That was a great sign, because I think it’s more likely to be repeated next year.

“He’s got two really viable pitches now. If he had just been a straight-out slider monster and happened to lock in his slider for a couple months and faced some aggressive hitters, I wouldn’t be as optimistic about him as I am now, because he’s got two weapons to go at hitters with again.”

So is Epstein, who says he’s comfortable with Marmol as his closer going into 2013, standing behind Marmol as a core piece for the near future, or is he just doing his best to talk up a trade piece?

Obviously Epstein won’t say, but he did discuss how the Cubs would address the closer spot in 2013 if a void should suddenly develop.

“I would look at it as an opportunity to try to give someone an opportunity,” Epstein said. “Either internally – a pitcher that we believed in and liked and exposed them to that role [so he] could maybe develop into that type of asset. Or go outside the organization and try to buy low on a pitcher that we really liked and then build value by putting him in that role. [That’s] value for the Cubs, and then if our season doesn’t turn out the way we want it to – potential value in a trade.”

In other words, Epstein doesn’t see the Cubs going out and trying to buy one of the “top” closers in the game. That, of course, makes sense in at least two ways: (1) the 2013 Cubs aren’t expected to be the kind that needs a “top” closer (we are, after all, talking about a universe in which they’ve dumped Marmol); and (2) spending big bucks on “top” closers has always struck me as one of the more inefficient uses of your payroll dollars. Although I won’t go so far as to say it’s easy to find or develop an acceptable closer, I will say that it is consistently one of the more important roles that you see rapid turnover from year to year at the top of the leader boards.

If the Cubs do move Marmol, I have no issue with them giving the closer’s job to a young reliever, or finding some undervalued middle reliever on the cheap, and giving him a chance to up his value as a closer. Indeed, Epstein seemed quick to describe that latter option – signing a cheap reliever, making him the closer, and then hoping he creates trade value – pretty thoroughly. Enough so that I am more convinced than I already was that the Cubs would be aggressively shopping Carlos Marmol this Winter.

  • B_Scwared

    Trade him. Turn new guy with upside into closer and Trade him. Love it.

    • ferrets_bueller

      …like playing the stock market. Just keep on ratcheting up the value, increasing net assets! Love it.

  • Big Daddy

    What type of prospect can they expect to get for Marmol? Top ten organizational? Top 20?

    • Brett

      Truly depends on how much salary they eat. I doubt they can get a top ten organizational (in an average system) regardless. But if they eat half of the money or more? I could see a top 20 type with good upside. I could also see a flawed, young, pre-arb pitcher who has already pitched in the bigs. Someone like a Travis Wood … but not as good. Pick your poison, I suppose.

      • terencem

        Marmol’s trade value is probably pretty low right now. If he can have a couple good months out of the gate, it will raise that significantly.

        • Bric

          Unfortunately that’s been Marmol’s mantra for over two years now and if there was any interest before there’s a whole lot less now. One could argue that all closers are headcases. But in that sense GM’s of other teams are gonna look for the least “headcasey” or most consistant to go after. Marmol has never fit either of these categories. Gregg and Bell had interest from other teams. Marmol? Doubt it. He’ll probably get cut next spring and sign on somewhere else for the minimum.

    • BluBlud

      I don’t think Top 10 is out of the question. Teams seem to over value closers. Marmol was extremely effective last year, and a team will take a chance on him(for the right $$$$).

  • Papi

    Detroit seems to need bullpen help, maybe they’ll take Soriano and Marmol in a package deal right before I wake up

    • kmr1453

      The fact that Detroit isn’t bringing Young and Valverde back pretty much ends the discussion of Soriano and Marmol being traded to the Tigers.

      • DocPeterWimsey

        That seems backwards to me….

        • kmr1453

          Victor Martinez will be the DH, so there is no need for Young or Soriano

          Their bullpen is already loaded. They will use one of their current players as closer, so no need for Valverde or Marmol.

    • DocPeterWimsey

      Detroit’s bullpen was above average over the season, and more than good enough to get them to the WS, where the Giants’ starting pitching rendered it a non-factor. Moreover, after Coke’s performance in the post-season, they probably are looking at him as a closer. (That’s probably the wrong reason for the right idea, but there you have it!)

  • @cubsfantroy

    Seems like every time they say someone is safe and he is the guy etc… they get traded. Wonder when it is going to happen with Marmol.

  • EMG

    The White Sox have more young pitching available to trade, but it would be nice if Marmol could be involved in getting the Cubs Moustakas from the Royals. Either way, I would love Moose in Chicago.

    • terencem

      I love him, too, but Moose is going to be prohibitively expensive for the Cubs and the Royals are going to try to get a TOR starter with him or one of their other bats.

    • ferrets_bueller

      That’s absolutely insane.

      Moustakas would be extremely hard to net from the Royals. He’s a developing, already power-hitting 3B on a rebuilding team. His offensive potential is very high, and he’s showing definitely signs of reaching it.

      And his defense….dear lord.

      He was robbed for the Gold Glove, IMO. He is, quite possibly, the best 3B defensively in baseball.
      The ship on trading a veteran for Moose has sailed, quite a while ago.

      • Dr. Percival Cox

        When isn’t that team rebuilding? But I completely agree. It’s an outside possibility we could have convinced them to bite on Cashner, but that ship has long since sailed — and (I think) I’d rather have Rizzo than Moose anyway. Hopefully Theo can find someone, or make a play for Wright next off-season.

  • Bret Epic

    The Orioles declined their 2013 option for Mark Reynolds. Averages about 34 HR and 95 RBI with a career 235 average. Might be able to buy cheap since he’s coming off a down year. The things that scare me though are fielding percentage at 3rd base for his career (.928) and how often he strikes out, which is almost 33%.

    • Big Daddy

      I think Reynolds would be a good fit on a 1 year deal with an option. I know his defense is atrocious, but we need someone with some power.

      • Bret Epic

        He’s 28, so he’s in the prime of his career, has a lot of pop and we might be able to get him for cheap since he’s coming off a bad year. If the Orioles don’t offer him something he’s willing to settle for, I think it’d be a good idea for the Cubs to bid on him for a short term contract, at least until we find a solid replacement at 3rd base. If he’s having a good year for the Cubs after being signed for a short contract at a decent price, we might even be able to flip him to another team for prospects.

  • Mick

    Wow, Theo’s trying hard to pump Marmol’s value. Aside from Soriano, the last player Theo gave that high of praise about was Sean Marshall and we all know how that turned out. On a side note which may or not be related to Marmol, the Angels are still “aggressively shopping” Haren and Santana and according to Ken Rosenthal, “Some of the names in play are more appealing than Haren and Santana.” Whatever the Angels end up deciding, it’s exciting to know that it’s going to happen soon!

  • abe

    maybe the yankees will want marmol

  • Luke D

    Chris Perez, anyone?

  • Cubbie Blues

    His fastball was also up 2.2 MPH over what it was in 2011 when it had dropped to 91.8. That will give anyone more confidence. He also didn’t have an option to not throw it due to Bosio’s fondness of wine.

  • lou brock lives

    Marmol , Vitters, & Coleman to the Angels for Santana & 3B Callaspo with Cubs eating $5 M of Marmol’s salary. For those of you who do not like Santana make it Haren instead. But look at Santana’s last 10 starts – except for the last against the Tigers – he looked very good, especially the 11K , 2 hitter vs. the White Sox.

    • Big Daddy

      I don’t think the Angels will give up Callaspo in that deal.

    • terencem

      I agree that they won’t give up Callaspo as he’s their starting third baseman. They know what an average third baseman is worth in this market.

  • Tenessee Cub

    Trade Marmol and sign Joakim Soria. He is perfect for the Cubs. Coming off an injury and has a high upside. Hurry!!!!!!!!!!

  • Tennessee Cub

    whoops, left out an n in my name.

  • Carne Harris

    I’d love Koji Uehara. Crazy numbers. Seems to be flying under the radar a bit so maybe we could buy low.

  • Kyle

    Not really interested in trading Marmol. As Epstein said, he did enough in the middle and late in the year to think he’s got some life left in him and might have been able to fix whatever was going wrong for awhile.

    We don’t need salary relief and we’re just about full up on mediocre prospects, so I see no need to deal yet another blow to the shaky state of the bullpen.

    • Jade

      Good counter point. I wouldn’t give Marmol away for T. Wood or less as someone suggested. If he puts up good numbers let someone offer something ridiculous at the deadline. Someone always does.

    • terencemann

      If they trade Marmol now, he’s going at rock bottom value. I’d at least wait and see if he can do better next season.

      • Brett

        From May on, Marmol was pretty great. Marmol-esque, anyway. I think teams know that.

      • Drew7

        Yeah…Marmol at rock-bottom would have been a year ago or even in May. He pitched fairly well after that.

  • Crazyhorse

    Little Theo doubletalk is getting old. The team will be judged by it performance . I wasted my time already

    • mudge

      and ours.

  • Fastball

    Keep Marmol until the deadline and trade him then if we are out of it like this year. I hope we are not in that situation again. He can continue on his path of success and the organization will benefit. I don’t think his value is where we want it to be just yet. A few months of success in 2013 will bring a better return and there will be less salary in play which will make him more desirable.

  • jim haley

    Why trade Marmol….we need some stability & he proved he is eady for the challenge. A lot of our pitchers were nervous on the mound under pressure but Marmol throws with confidence & has an arrogance about him that intimidates the batters he faces. He still has his stike out pitch with a vastly improved fastball. No doubt Quade & Riggins didn’t help Carlos out at all last season.