Among many problems in the Chicago Cubs’ rough start, the closer situation has been one of the most obvious. Carlos Marmol allowed at least one earned run in each of his first three appearances before losing the job, and newcomer Kyuji Fujikawa got injured almost immediately upon taking Marmol’s place.
Now, with the Cubs still scrambling for a solution, the Chicago Tribune reports that Marmol is likely back in the mix. Manager Dale Sveum is going with the dreaded “committee” approach, and his pool of candidates includes the mercurial righthander.
Although it’s understandable that Sveum wants to keep his options open during Fujikawa’s injury, the worst thing Chicago can do with Marmol is keep yo-yoing him in and out of the closer’s spot. It won’t help him, and it won’t help the team.
Whatever else Marmol has shown the team and its fans over a volatile seven-plus seasons, it’s clear that his most dangerous opponent is himself. His stuff has never been in question, but when he starts losing his confidence, he stops throwing strikes or getting outs.
Setting aside the question of whether starting him off as this season’s ninth-inning man was a smart move, it obviously didn’t work. Putting him back out in a save situation after three bad outings—and, more importantly, after such a clear-cut demotion—is begging for him to fail again.
On the other hand, Marmol has been a superlative setup man in the past, and he’s now gone four appearances in a row this season without allowing a run in that role. He hasn’t been at his best yet (just three strikeouts against two walks and two hits allowed), but he’s been clearly more effective in the lower-pressure role than he was as the main man in the bullpen.
Rather than tinker with one of the few things the Cubs have working for them right now, Sveum should leave Marmol right where he is, in his familiar eighth-inning slot. Even if other pitchers are failing as the closer, there’s no sense yanking Marmol out of a role where he’s effective just so he can fail too.
Not only would keeping Marmol in the eighth-inning job help the pitcher and the team’s on-field performance, but it would be a smart move for the Cubs’ long-term plans as well. With Fujikawa on the roster, Marmol can be outstanding trade bait, but only if he’s effective.
Obviously, a closer would command more trade value than a setup man of equal effectiveness, but that’s precisely the point. Marmol isn’t equally effective in the two roles right now, and probably won’t be for much (if any) of this season.
Chicago will be far better served trying to market Marmol as a good-to-great setup man rather than an erratic closer. If some team wants him for the latter job, they’re still more likely to pay a fair price for him if he’s been pitching good eighth innings rather than bad ninth innings.
Nothing Carlos Marmol can do on the field this year would help the team as much as bringing in a valuable piece for the future in a trade. That’s not going to happen if the Cubs don’t let him get comfortable as their go-to guy for the eighth inning.