Carlos Zambrano (photo left) is now the highest-paid set-up man in baseball history.
His manager says this makes "all the sense in the world."
Well, to be fair to Lou Piniella, he didn't really say it makes sense to pay somebody $18 million a year to pitch the eighth inning. That Zambrano has the fifth richest contract among pitchers is irrelevant to the question of what role he should play.
The Cubs are making Z a relief pitcher to make room for Ted Lilly in the rotation. Carlos Silva and Tom Gorzelanny remain in the rotation.
If you go by the past, this is nuts. Zambrano is still just 28 — really; he turns 29 on June 1— and his record is 106-70, 3.56. He's wild (he's twice led the league in walks, another time in hit batters ) and prone to emotional meltdowns, but he keeps the ball in the park and gets plenty of strikeouts. Silva and Gorzelanny are decidedly less accomplished.
As a result, this move is getting widely panned by columnists and bloggers.
But none of the critics are in Piniella's position. He's watched Zambrano decline. He's seen Silva pound the strike zone (two walks and 12 strikeouts in 19 innings).
He's not making this decision based on what they've done in 2009 or 2007. He's making it based on the talent they're showing him in April 2010.
My guess is that Zambrano's bullpen stint will be brief. Somebody in the Cub rotation will get hurt (Silva, after his win Wednesday, implied that his shoulder still is not right), and Big Z will get another chance to pitch the eighth inning the old-fashioned way — by pitching the first seven first.