Carlos Zambrano was a three-time All-Star while playing for the Chicago Cubs.
MIAMI — The Miami Marlins are counting on excitable Ozzie Guillen to have a calming influence on quarrelsome Carlos Zambrano.
The plan may sound crazy, but say this for the Marlins: They’ve become harder to ignore.
Their latest offseason move was approved Thursday, when they acquired Zambrano from the Chicago Cubs for underachieving right-hander Chris Volstad. The Marlins believe Zambrano’s career can be resuscitated by pairing him with fellow Venezuelan and good friend Guillen, the team’s new manager.
“Ozzie has a long and close relationship with Carlos,” president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest said. “We went with Ozzie on this one. The bottom line was Ozzie just really, really felt confident about this deal.”
In Chicago, Zambrano was a three-time All-Star, but he also feuded with teammates, management and umpires. The final straw came Aug. 12, when he was ejected from a game, cleaned out his locker, talked about retiring and was suspended without pay.
In Miami, Beinfest hopes for the best but will be braced for a repeat.
“It would hard for me to say everything is going to be perfect and incident-free, given the guy’s history,” Beinfest said. “It may happen that he has a blowup or two. But Ozzie is very confident he can help him.”
Those meetings on the mound should be entertaining. While managing the Chicago White Sox, Guillen underwent sensitivity training. On the north side of town, Zambrano attended anger management sessions. In 2010, Zambrano had a verbal altercation with then-teammate Derrek Lee, then dined that night with Guillen.
“Look for Zambrano to pitch well in 2012,” former White Sox outfielder Jermaine Dye tweeted. “Ozzie will have him in check in Miami.”
As part of the trade, the Marlins will pay $2.55 million of Zambrano’s $18 million salary this year. The Cubs are responsible for the rest but were willing to foot the bill because they weren’t optimistic relations with Zambrano could be patched up.
“Every player that I talked to articulated to me that Carlos had really violated their trust,” new Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. “When you’re talking about physical altercations with teammates repeatedly, when you’re talking about physically walking out on the team, it’s very hard to then have that player come back into the clubhouse and be trusted.”
Volstad has a career record of 32-39 with a 4.59 ERA in 11 big league seasons. He was originally the Marlins’ first-round pick in 2005.
“We’ve all been a little bit baffled by some of Chris’ inconsistencies,” Beinfest said.
Volstad is arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter, and his contract status made him appealing to the Cubs.
“The calculus became for us: Would we rather spend that $18 million on one season of Carlos and try to make it work with him here?” Epstein said. “In the best case scenario even if it did work, he’d be leaving at the end of the year as a free agent. Or, if we were going to have to spend that money anyway as a sum cost, would we rather spend it on a 25-year-old that we can put in our rotation and control for three seasons? That made a lot of sense.”
Volstad said he was excited to join the Cubs and is optimistic about showing improvement.
“I came up young and had some growing pains over the last couple years,” he said. “At the end of the season last year, I started pitching really well. I’m looking to continue how I finished last year.”
From the Marlins’ standpoint, if they can get Zambrano to settle down, the deal might be a steal. He went only 9-7 with a 4.82 ERA last year, but he’s just 30 and could benefit from the change in scenery. His career record is 125-81, all with the Cubs from 2001 to 2011, and three times he finished in the top five in NL Cy Young Award balloting.
Beinfest said Zambrano lost a few miles per hour off his fastball last season, but Marlins scouts were impressed when they watched the right-hander pitch in winter ball in Venezuela.
“We’re confident his competitiveness and experience will help carry him if the stuff is down a little bit,” Beinfest said.
Zambrano joins a rotation that also includes left-hander Mark Buehrle, former NL ERA champion Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco and Anibal Sanchez.
Johnson, whose 2011 season was curtailed by right shoulder inflammation, is expected to begin throwing off a mound this mouth.
Buehrle was one of three All-Star acquired during a December spending spree that significantly upgraded the perennially overlooked Marlins. They also signed shortstop Jose Reyes and closer Heath Bell.
“Our expectations are high,” Beinfest said. “We want to play in October, and we think we have the ballclub to do it. The pieces we’ve added have really transformed this team.”
The Marlins might not be done shopping. Beinfest said they remain interested in outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, a 25-year-old Cuban defector who has yet to be granted free-agent status.
Zambrano waived his no-trade provision along with a conditional $19.25 million player option for 2013 that could have been exercised only if he finished among the top four in this year’s Cy Young Award voting and was on the active roster for the season’s final 30 days. As part of the trade, he gets a $100,000 bonus added to his salary this year if he wins comeback player of the year. The Marlins would be responsible for the bonus.