Many Chicago Cubs enthusiasts are becoming increasingly weary from seeing Carlos Marmol take his high-wire act into the ninth inning. In each of the last two seasons, Marmol has temporarily lost his grip on the closer job. Things didn’t appear any better when Marmol finished spring with five walks in his last 2.2 innings pitched.
Marmol didn’t help himself with his Opening Day performance. For the third straight game, Marmol was removed before he could finish an inning. He recorded just one out after facing four batters. He surrendered an RBI single, walk and a hit-by-pitch. Most of his pitches were either near the batters’ faces or in the dirt.
Rescuing Marmol from that near fatal fall were James Russell and Kyuji Fujikawa. Fujikawa earned the save when he recorded the final out on two pitches. Not bad for a 32-year-old international pitcher who made his MLB regular-season debut. As the setup specialist, Fujikawa enters the season as the pitcher who’d almost certainly get the first chance to become closer if Marmol loses that job.
Manager Dale Sveum continues to defend Marmol. But is it anything more than lip service? One can’t deny how Sveum had relievers warming up as soon as Marmol allowed his first base-runner. Unlike last season, Sveum removed Marmol before more damage was done when the score became 3-1 with two runners on.
There’s no doubt that Marmol is on a very short leash. Marmol’s job security is thinner than the tightrope that he walks across in each of his appearances. A couple—maybe even one more of those duds—will cost him his job.
And if Marmol gets demoted for a third consecutive season, that’s it.
Maybe Sveum has an incredible amount of confidence—blind faith—in his inconsistent reliever. Maybe management has forced Marmol into this role because they want him to have a hot streak. That would give them more power to trade him for better prospects. Maybe they feel like no one else can close games.
But if Marmol gets demoted for a third consecutive season, then under no circumstances can he regain his closer job. Even if Marmol follows a demotion with 20 consecutive shutout innings, the Cubs mustn’t restore his ninth-inning status. Just trade him for whatever a streaky seventh-inning reliever or setup specialist would get them.
The Cubs owe that to their fans. Furthermore, they owe it to the players who string together eight innings of quality baseball, especially the starting pitchers. Don’t sacrifice wins this early in the season for the slim hope of upgrading a jobber prospect into a lower-midcard prospect.
If for whatever reason the Cubs can’t resist the temptation of giving Marmol another shot at closer (e.g. if Fujikawa doesn’t work out), then management should eat the bullet and just release him before his contract expires after this season.