It's official: Cubs trade Zambrano to Marlins
Theo Epstein admitted he was skeptical, too.
So instead of waiting to see if wayward pitcher Carlos Zambrano could "earn" his way back onto the team, in Epstein's own words, he traded Zambrano to the Miami Marlins on Thursday in exchange for right-handed pitcher Chris Volstad and cash considerations.
Zambrano will make $18 million this coming season, and whatever Volstad makes with the Cubs will be subtracted from the $18 million and sent to the Marlins.
Volstad could make between $2 million and $3 million as a player eligible for salary arbitration.
Epstein viewed the money as a "sunk cost" anyway and said it would have been difficult for Zambrano to come back and face Cubs players after walking out of a game last Aug. 12 in Atlanta and threatening retirement.
It was Zambrano's last game as a Cub, as then-general manager Jim Hendry suspended him and had him put on the disqualified list.
"I was skeptical," Epstein said Thursday on a conference call with reporters. "One of the first things I did when I got here was sit down with as many people as I could and listen.
"I'm not big on labels. I'm not big on reputations dictating how I treat people or how I think about people. But I think this was one that was really consistent. Every player that I talked to articulated to me that Carlos had really violated their trust."
Epstein, who took over as Cubs baseball president in October, cited Zambrano's walkout as well as physical confrontations with teammates in the past as contributing to a history that might make it difficult for him to re-establish trust with the players and the organization as a whole.
"Do I believe in second chances? Yes," Epstein said. "Do I believe in third chances? Yes, in some cases, and fourth chances. But I think you have to be realistic about it, and you have to recognize that players don't dictate decisions like this.
"You're trying to establish a certain sense of unity in the clubhouse and a certain sense of purpose. You have to have accountability and trust between the players.
"The players here felt like, and the organizations feels like, there wasn't trust there, and it was a risky proposition whether that trust could be re-established."
In November, Epstein said at the general manager meetings in Milwaukee that Zambrano would have to take steps to earn his way back onto the club.
At the same time, he began seeking trade partners for the 30-year-old pitcher, who has a lifetime record of 125-81 in a career spent entirely with the Cubs.
Zambrano had a full no-trade clause, and Epstein related that Zambrano's initial reaction was that he didn't want to be traded. Perhaps as a measure of good faith, Zambrano began working out and pitching winter ball in Venezuela.
In the past few days, the Marlins proved to be a willing trading partner, in large part because their manager, Ozzie Guillen, is a friend of Zambrano's. Both men are from Venezuela, and Guillen most recently was manager of the White Sox.
Zambrano waived the no-trade and reportedly gave up the vesting option he had for 2013.
"Just this week we were able to connect with the Marlins and were able to work out a deal in which we got back a 25-year-old starting pitcher in Chris Volstad who we could put right into our rotation and we control for three seasons," Epstein said.
"It seemed to make a lot of sense for us. For better or for worse, we were committed to spending $18 million on one season of Carlos Zambrano this year.
"The calculus became for us, 'Would we rather spend that $18 million on one season of Carlos and try to make it work?' The best-case scenario, if it did work, he'd be leaving as a free agent at the end of the year.
"Or if we had to spend that money anyway as a sunk cost, would we rather spend it on a 25-year-old who we could put in our rotation and control for three seasons? For us, it made a lot of sense."
Volstad, a 6-foot-8 right-hander, was 5-13 with a 4.89 ERA last year. The Marlins' first-round pick of the 2005 draft is 32-39 with a 4.59 ERA lifetime. The Cubs will plug him into their starting rotation.
"I can't say I was 100 percent surprised," Volstad said of being dealt. "I wasn't expecting it but maybe saw it coming.
"I'm excited. Obviously, it's one of the great historic franchises in baseball, franchises in all of sports, basically. So I'm really excited to be a part of it."
•Follow Bruce Miles on Twitter @BruceMiles2112.