Baseball is an emotional game, which is an obvious thing to say to my fellow Cub fans, given both the legacy of this team, and the players we have recently witnessed wear Cubbie Blue. Too much emotion has it's obvious problems. It disrupts clubhouses, gets in the way of a players talent, and creates a buzzkill for players and fans alike. I don't have to name our recent examples, but the pictures in the links above are worth a thousand words. Too little emotion, however, can be just as much of a problem Whether it's from overpaid players who have lost interest, or dejected teams that have just given up, or just a lack of fire in the interpersonal culture of the team. If a team has enough talent, the emotional character of a team is the key ingredient to championships.
And this team has the talent. Soriano, Lee, Ramirez, Fukudome, and Soto have enough proven talent that poor performance is flukish, not the rule. And guys like Byrd and Theriot (can't bring myself to put any of our 2b guys here, but it could be argued) are capable of handling everyday playing duties just as well or better than, say, Robinson Cano and Nick Swisher. The Cubs starting pitching has been consistently spectacular for several years, and are starting 2010 off better than ever... they could be truly special. People like Marmol and Marshall and Zambrano (for now) are good enough to anchor a pen at a very high level. Plus the Cubs have a wealth of capable, if young, relievers on the team and in the system that are plenty talented. The pen will be even better when they pick up another reliever later on this year (and they give up on the Samardjiza experiment - which is Hendry's emotional problem).
Even with the few holes in this team, and inexperienced bullpen arms and a big yawn at second base and leadoff spot, this team has enough talent, right now, to win a championship. And this is not any different than last year, or the two years before that. As usual, for the 2010 Cubs, it's not a talent thing, it's an emotional thing.
That's why I'm going to make the point, if you're still reading this, that moving Zambrano to the bullpen was a very, very good move. I think it solved two emotional problems at once. I thought this when I saw this picture. Baseball teams, it's easy to forget, have two dugouts - the one where the starting pitchers and players all hang out, and the bullpen. They're all both different cultures.that work towards the same goal, but are only connected by a telephone. If you look at our pen, there is a freakishly talented closer who isn't very talkative in Marmol, a similarly soft-spoken and talented releiver in Marshall, a couple of recent callups and recent acquisitions with wobbly knees, and not a lot of glue.
Enter Zambrano. He's a joker, he's always in the game, he's an established veteran, and he cares - a lot - about winning. He's also bilingual, and I don't know how well he gets along with the other Carlos, but he can definitely keep him, and all of the other guys, loose and involved in the game. He's also a scary-ass pitcher - I know for certain that if I was watching the Cubs go into the 7th or 8th inning 1-2 runs down and someone like CC sabathia came in, i'd be a lot less hopeful. I think Zambrano can infuse a tentative bullpen with confidence, and I think he will.
Back at the club house, there's enough leadership and personalities already, and a bored non-starting (or starting for that matter) Zambrano may not always be the best glue. I think, emotionally, his departure from the dugout is addition by subtraction.
Lou's move (which remember, does not have to be permanent) is not panic - it's emotional management. The ONLY way Zambrano's not starting at the end of the year is if we have 5 ptichers contiuning to pitch like world beaters and his presence in the pen makes the combo of him, Marshall, and Marmol so unbelievable that the Cubs are consistently playing .700 baseball.
When a team has as much talent as this one, I think a little emotional management can go along way. And I applaud Lou's instincts here.