A brief history of Carlos Marmol and the Cubs

David Banks

It was like Romeo and Juliet, but without the happy ending.

Carlos Marmol has been designated for assignment. This means the Cubs have 10 days to trade him or release him. If he clears waivers, he would have to agree to a minor-league assignment, which he probably would not do. Or, heck, maybe he would. Maybe this is like the end of this last season of Mad Men, and Marmol realizes something needs to change. He's out of control, pun most certainly intended.

That's probably not what's going to happen. Carlos Marmol is an ex-Cub walking, most likely, pun also intended. This means it's a good time to look back at the fascinating, tumultuous relationship between the Cubs and Marmol. Would you believe that Marmol is one of the wildest pitchers in history?:

Player Walks per 9 innings pitched Career IP
Carlos Marmol 6.07 542.1
Mitch Williams 7.08 691.1
Mark Clear 6.20 804.1
John D'Acquisto 6.28 779.2
Herb Score 6.01 858.1
Tommy Byrne 6.85 1362.0
Rex Barney 6.17 597.2

Oh, you would. Right, right.

But would you believe the Cubs have been pretty bad since Marmol was installed as the closer? Not because of Marmol, necessarily, but because they're the Cubs?

Oh, right, yeah, you probably figured that, too.

So let's take a chronological look at the Cubs and Marmol, and see how in the heck they got here.

2006
Carlos Marmol came up as a starter. It was a bold experiment in the how-long-can-I-microwave-these-forks sense of the word, and it ended as you would expect (6.08 ERA, 59 walks in 77 innings). You can't fault them for trying, though.

2007
In which Carlos Marmol gets a single 10th-place MVP vote. This was the beginning of the Marmol era as we'd like to remember it -- he still had command problems, but his slider was the best in the game. He walked 4.5 batters for every nine innings he pitched, but he struck out 12.5. He allowed only three home runs, and his ERA was a career-best 1.43. Somehow, Ryan Dempster kept the closer job for the entire season.

The Cubs won the Central that year, and Marmol was tagged with a loss in Game 1 of the NLDS.

2008
In which Carlos Marmol makes the All-Star team, even though he wasn't the closer yet. Kerry Wood was the closer (and a good one), which put Marmol back in the runner-up slot. He pitched well again, though he allowed 10 home runs this time.

The Cubs won the Central again. Everything's going smoothly. Marmol is one of the better relievers in the game.

2009
In which the walks get really out of hand. Marmol walked 7.91 batters for every nine innings he pitched. Steve Blass walked 8.53 per nine in 1973 and got a disease named after him. Marmol took over the closer's role for Kevin Gregg. After waiting a long time as the closer of the future, Marmol was finally the Cubs' closer of the present.

The Cubs finished 83-78. There were no trade rumors about Marmol that offseason, as the Cubs still fancied themselves contenders.

2010
The walks were still goofy. The strikeouts were even goofier. Marmol ends up striking out 16 batters per nine, which was a record at the time (and still third-best ever). Marmol was a walking contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction, but he'd eventually get the save. He allowed just a homer all season.

The Cubs lost 87 games. They had that Cubs look to them. Number of Marmol-related trade rumors on MLB Trade Rumors: 0. Which seems a little strange, but the Cubs were still hoping they'd bounce back.

Marmol signed a three-year extension in January.

2011
The walks were still awful. To save time, note that they will be until he retires. But the strikeouts came back down to earth. He allowed more runners and more home runs than in 2010, and his ERA was a career-worst (as a reliever) 4.01.

The Cubs lost 91 games, and Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein took over. This leads to the first trade rumor of Carlos Marmol's closing career: that he "could be had for the right price." The right price is probably pretty high, though, as no hot-'n-heavy rumors come in.

2012
Walks. All the walks. The Cubs are awful again, and they would love to trade Marmol for something good at the deadline. Marmol pitches his way out of every trade scenario possible:

I Split ERA G SV IP H HR BB SO
1st Half 5.61 31 8 25.2 20 3 28 33
2nd Half 1.52 30 12 29.2 20 1 17 39

That first half is what teams were thinking about when the Cubs called. Eventually Marmol cleared waivers in August, as there wasn't a team willing to take a chance on claiming him. Not when the Cubs could just give away the salary.

There are trade rumors in the offseason, but more my-problem-for-your-problem scenarios.

2013
Basically this. Like a big ol' glowing gopher.

When the Royals had Joakim Soria, he was great and they were awful. And they kept him, year after year. Royals bad, Soria good. Royals bad, Soria good. It made no sense. They could have gotten Jesus Montero at one point, and I'm sure he wasn't the only good prospect dangled in front of them. Instead, they waited until Soria broke, and then they let him go for nothing.

I figured the Cubs were like that with Marmol: a bad team making a bad decision with a closer, which happens a lot. A good closer is a cherry on top of a team sundae, but bad teams keep them around just in case another team will give them chocolate, ice cream, chopped nuts, and whipped cream in exchange for their tuna sandwich. Also, there's a jar of cherries behind them at all times.

But they weren't, really. The Cubs were a complete team early in Marmol's career, contending regularly. Their window to trade him was after 2010. In 2011, he had a down year. In 2012, he was dreadful before the deadline. From October to March 2010 was the Marmol trade window. The Cubs missed it. They signed him to an extension, instead. Considering they were hoping to bounce back after their first bad season in a while, it seemed reasonable at the time.

So it went for the Cubs and Marmol. Even when he was a good closer, the Cubs couldn't really use him. And when they were ready to use him in a trade, he wasn't a good closer. He's available for the right price. Which is probably a phone call and some cab fare. It'll be interesting to see which team takes the chance.

For more on Marmol and the Cubs, please visit Bleed Cubbie Blue

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