By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) In the climactic scene of Ray Bradbury’s classic Fahrenheit 451, the main character, Guy Montag, says to his fire captain, Beatty, “We never burned right” just before wiping Beatty out with a flamethrower (sorry if I spoiled your reading of SparkNotes). See, in Bradbury’s novel there is a paradox where firemen start fires instead of fighting them. I’ve started calling Carlos Marmol “Tire Fire” because he, too, is a paradox in that he’s paid to close games but instead sometimes causes the evacuation of homes within a mile radius. A tire fire is usually not the right kind of burning.
And with that wrong kind of burning comes decreased trade value. It’s no secret that the Cubs front office will trade Marmol the very minute someone is willing to take him. It almost happened after last season (I still grind my teeth mumbling “Dan Haren for Marmol”), and he was dangled all winter to no avail. He’s still a Cub, and so long as that is the situation, the tough pill fans need to swallow is that he has to pitch if he is to be traded, because while bad outings might make him unattractive to potential takers, keeping him idle makes him downright toxic to them.
“He’s still the closer,” manager Dale Sveum said after the Cubs beat the Pirates 3-1 despite removing Marmol in the ninth inning after he hit a batter, gave up an RBI single, and walked a guy. “I’m not making any changes or anything like that. He just didn’t have it today.”
Good call. I disagree with the argument that the best option is just to cut ties with Marmol immediately as any trade would require the Cubs to eat most of his salary anyway and because he isn’t a piece of the puzzle for the future. The players certainly would refuse to concede it, but wins are not the bottom line organizationally in 2013. That sucks to admit, but it’s true. It’s a season of marking progress of individuals that will likely be around a while like Starlin Castro, Jeff Samardzija, and Anthony Rizzo while hoping for positive results from average veterans that can hopefully then be traded for more puzzle pieces. Cutting players is a move backward. Somebody of some value has to come in return for a departing player. You can’t go from almost sewing Dan flippin’ Haren’s name on the back of blue pinstripes to just lighting $9.8 million aflame.
Walking away from the fire isn’t a solution. Trying to harness it is. Maybe not going so far as to be sexually attracted to it like Robert De Niro in Backdraft, but attempting to reach a controlled burn, if you will. That can even happen with a tire fire. “I can tell that’s not him,” said catcher Welington Castillo. “I know he was a little bit wild. He’s better than that.”
It’s easy to only remember the bad about Marmol. When he’s bad, he’s smoldering noxious rubber awful. But how soon is the really good Marmol forgotten? In the second half of 2012 he was actually pretty good—8 earned runs in 29.2 innings pitched from Game 87 on. Since becoming a full-time reliever in 2007, he’s averaged 12.6 K/9. If strikeouts are fascist, to paraphrase Crash Davis, teams want Mussolini’s for closers. Only six had a better K/9 than Marmol in 2012. Where he falters is his K/BB rate, his 1.6 being the worst among regular closers in 2012, and that doesn’t incorporate hit batsmen. Sometimes Marmol’s tightrope act then makes for at best chain-smoking-nervous-viewing success—the putting guys on before striking everyone else out scenario fans are familiar with—or at worst that tire fire that burns so wrong as opponents cross the plate.
During his amazing 2010, nobody seemed to mind Marmol’s 6.0 BB/9 rate or 8 HBP because he was also giving up few hits and striking out a whopping 138 hitters, a number many healthy starters don’t reach in a season. That fire burned right.
“He’s a veteran getting ready for the season,” Theo Epstein said before Monday’s game. “Performance wise you could pick apart his last couple outings (of spring)… but the reality with him we wanted to see signs that the guy from the last three and half months of the season was still there. And if you look beyond the performance at the end I think you saw a lot of those signs.”
Marmol has set off enough fire alarms to let us know that his wildness will always be there in some capacity. He just needs to keep working on it and listen to pitching coach Chris Bosio (and not buying Bosio cases of wine), being that pitcher that Epstein mentioned. What Cub fans have to then hope for is those tire fires getting quenched quickly and resulting in scoreless innings and/or saves despite the fumes and ugliness. An otherwise good team will face a performance or injury crisis in its bullpen. The Tigers entered 2013 without rectifying the questions they had in their ‘pen after declining the services of arsonist and performance artist Jose Valverde. Is Phil Coke the answer? Craig Kimbrel has to get busted for using plutonium or eating babies or something. The Cardinals ‘pen comes with concerns, interdivision dealing be damned. Somebody with playoff hopes will be requesting a guy for the seventh, eighth, or ninth inning at some point.
The only way to find out if that request rings the Cubs’ phones is if Carlos Marmol keeps pitching, though. He needs to be given the opportunity to possibly return to the type of guy Jason Goff referred to as “You won’t hit me, but I might hit you.” Like the guy at the beginning of Bradbury’s novel who believes “It was a pleasure to burn.”
Tim Baffoe attended the University of Iowa and Governors State University and began blogging at The Score after winning the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He enjoys writing things about stuff, but not so much stuff about things. When not writing for 670TheScore.com, Tim corrupts America’s youth as a high school English teacher and provides a great service to his South Side community delivering pizzas (please tip him and his colleagues well). You can follow Tim’s inappropriate brain droppings on Twitter @TimBaffoe , but please don’t follow him in real life. He grew up in Chicago’s Beverly To read more of Tim’s blogs click here.