FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — A scene from an episode of The Franchise showed Carlos Zambrano calling play-by-play between the Mets and Marlins from the Citi Field visitors’ bullpen. He has a voice for radio, but Zambrano isn’t thinking about his next career just yet.
Zambrano’s first and likely only season with the Miami Marlins is coming to a bittersweet end. Bitter because he’s in the bullpen getting sporadic work after losing his rotation spot two months ago. Sweet because he considers this campaign an unmitigated success for reasons beyond the numbers.
Not one beverage dispenser bit the dust.
Zambrano became persona non grata with the Cubs for everything from accosting umpires to fighting with teammates to abandoning them after an August 2011 start in Atlanta. With the Marlins he demonstrated he could go through a full season without being a disruptive force.
Manager Ozzie Guillen during spring training joked that he was a matador and would kill the bull, alluding to Zambrano’s nickname of “El Toro," if necessary. This bull proved docile.
“It’s been a successful year in that regard," said Zambrano, whose team opens its second-to-last homestand today against the Reds.
“Unfortunately, the last two years I was suspended, but this year I’m going to finish the season without a suspension and without any negativity in that aspect. Nothing bothers me anymore. I have God’s peace."
What Zambrano doesn’t have is a job in 2013. The five-year, $91.5 million contract extension he signed with the Cubs expires after this season, making him a free agent for the first time in his career.
Obviously, Zambrano no longer can command a $19 million annual salary. He should be in the Marlins’ price range, but a return engagement is unlikely.
Zambrano wants no part of being a reliever, and the Marlins probably have too many burgeoning pitchers to guarantee him the fourth or fifth spot in the rotation.
“I’ll leave that to them," Zambrano said. “I know they have a lot of young starters, but having a couple with experience is never a bad thing. I think I’m a pitcher that deserves another opportunity and I’ll know how to take advantage of it."
Zambrano got off to a great start. Through his first 11 outings (732⁄3 innings) he could boast a 2.81 ERA. Over his last nine starts his command issues worsened. He walked 38 and struck out 27 in his final 411⁄3 innings as a member of the rotation.
“We didn’t put him in the bullpen because we’re crazy," Guillen said.
“He created that. I don’t think he can blame anybody. I know it’s not easy for me, for my coaching staff and the front office people to put this kid in the bullpen when he’s Carlos Zambrano. You look at the big picture, you put yourself in the bullpen. We didn’t do it."
In the same breath, Guillen said Zambrano’s days as an effective back-of-the-rotation starter are not over.
“There’s no doubt in my mind, but I don’t care who you are, what you do, if you don’t throw strikes you’re going to be in the bullpen," Guillen added.
“I think Carlos is outstanding, but when you’re behind, walking people and get in trouble, hey, you have to find out (what’s wrong)."
Zambrano doesn’t think finishing the season as a reliever will hinder his ability to secure a starting job in 2013. He plans to pitch in winter ball again, not so much to audition for perspective employers but rather to get in shape for the World Baseball Classic next spring.
“People know what I can and can’t do," Zambrano said. “People know who I am, and I myself recognize I’m not the same guy (from years ago), but I can get outs in the big leagues."