And the award for the dumbest MLB move of the century goes to…the Chicago Cubs!!!

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By Jake McCormick

If you trust an expensive, fat, and generally bad starter over a proven commodity in your rotation, then the Chicago Cubs may be the team for you.As Alfonso Soriano continues his $136 million path to the pine, there really isn’t much of an argument to be made against Chicago owning the worst position player signing in MLB history. But thanks to Cubs manager Lou Piniella and pitching coach Larry Rothschild, the move of Carlos Zambrano to the bullpen give the team a clean sweep in the stupid category.

Rothschild and Piniella had apparently been talking about this possibility for some time, as a move was inevitable with Ted Lilly coming back to the rotation. But in no realm of baseball, reality, or the universe does the choice of Zambrano make sense. Chicago baseball analyst Steve Stone likened the clear desperation move to passengers of the Titanic jumping ship before it even set sail.

I’d imagine their conversation had to go something like this:

LR: “So ah Lou, what do you think of moving Carlos Silva or Ryan Dempster to the bullpen? They both know how to deal with the starter-to-reliever switch and have proven they can do it somewhat successfully.”

LP: (In his patented grumbling “I don’t care anymore” voice) “Ah, we need Silva to keep pitching the way he has, despite the overwhelming evidence that it won’t last. How about Big Z? He can throw a baseball hard.”

LR: “You mean our most durable starting pitcher that also happens to be our highest paid, on top of being an overall head case? That is the smartest thing I’ve ever hear anyone say ever. No wonder you get paid the big bucks.”

Let’s break this down statistically before we throw logic and sensibility into the mix. Zambrano pitched at least 200 innings since 2003 in every year except 2009. As a set up man, in the best case scenario he would throw around 80 innings, leaving roughly 120 to distribute amongst Silva, Dempster, Tom Gorzelanny, Randy Wells, and the rehabbing Lilly. Would you be comfortable giving anyone other than Lilly and Dempster those innings?

Let’s pretend for a second that Zambrano turns in the best numbers a set up man can put up. He still wouldn’t equal his Wins Above Replacement numbers from 2009, and thus would put the Cubs in an overall worse position throughout the season to win games. Zambrano’s WAR last year was 3.6, which was equal to Dempster’s and .1 below Lilly’s.

Zambrano’s best possible WAR as a reliever would be around 2.9, which was Jonathan Broxton’s reliever-leading 2009 number. Just in case you were wondering, Mariano Rivera’s WAR was 2.0 and Joe Nathan and Jonathan Papelbon finished at 1.9. He was 12th among starters in FIP (3.61) and had a higher WHIP (1.38) than Dempster, Randy Wells, and Lilly. Simply put, it’s a dumb decision only the Cubs would make.

If Zambrano notoriously has problems with control as a starter, despite his high inning counts, what makes anyone think he’ll be successful in one inning stints? Throw in the fact that Zambrano has no experience relieving, is often erratic, and now holds the title as the most expensive reliever in baseball, and Cardinal and Brewer fans are laughing all the way to first and second place in the NL Central.

Reducing the work time of one of your most durable and talented employees makes zero sense in the business world. With this move, the Chicago Cubs have put themselves in a worse position to win baseball games, which last time I checked was the reason for the season.

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