January 8, 2012 in Sports

Guillen likely to empower Zambrano with Marlins

Phil Rogers Chicago Tribune
 

The Florida Marlins re-signed Greg Dobbs on Tuesday, giving him $3 million for two years.

They agreed to a trade for Carlos Zambrano on Wednesday, and there went Dobbs’ at-bats.

Dobbs is one of the best pinch hitters going, and it speaks to the Marlins’ seriousness about winning that they brought back the 33-year-old third baseman, who spent 2011 with them after being with the Phillies from 2007 to 2010. But I’m seeing 2012 as the year when Ozzie Guillen empowers Zambrano in a way the Cubs never would.

The dude really can hit. He’s only a career .241 hitter but in a small sample hit .318 last season, including a .389 average and 1.088 OPS from the right side of the plate.

His preoccupation with hitting always seemed silly, especially that day in 2008 when he was so upset after a round of batting practice that he broke a bat over his knee. But that was when his future seemed to matter so much, when the Cubs’ investment in him was so great.

Zambrano is costing the Marlins only about $3 million, and he will be a free agent when the season is over. He will be handled by his buddy, who is being given an unusually large level of influence for a manager. Why wouldn’t Ozzie turn the full BigZ loose on Miami?

Larry Beinfest, the architect of the Marlins’ championship team in 2003 who has kept things together during the turbulent decade of Jeffrey Loria’s ownership, admits he’s counting on Guillen to make the move work.

“We went with Ozzie on this one,” Beinfest said, stating the obvious. “We know Zambrano. We’re aware of all the things going on, and the bottom line is Ozzie really, really felt confident about this deal. We think the change of scenery will be beneficial to him.”

Beinfest said he’s not expecting a model clubhouse citizen.

“Is everything going to be perfect and incident-free?” he said. “I think it would be hard to say that given the guy’s history. But Ozzie is very confident he can help him.”

Zambrano is 30, and early in the 2011 season, following the counseling of 2010, he worked hard to be an adult. But Beinfest is right when he references him as “the kid,” and the Marlins probably would be smart to get out of his way and let him have fun, like he did in the first half of his 11 seasons with the Cubs – the half before he fought with catcher Michael Barrett.

Now Zambrano has to prove he has enough left to be worth the trouble.

There’s no more fascinating team in the majors than Guillen’s Marlins. Before adding Zambrano, the issues were:

• How does Hanley Ramirez handle his move to third base with the signing of shortstop Jose Reyes?

• Which Guillen are the Marlins getting? He’s a terrific manager – the 2011 White Sox won more games than the team’s statistical performance suggested it should – but grew insanely self-absorbed after the Oney Guillen Twitter war in spring training 2010.

• Is Josh Johnson healthy? The Marlins’ ace, who led the National League with a 2.30 ERA in 2010, made only nine starts last season because of shoulder problems, which were treated with rest and exercise rather than surgery.

• How will newcomers Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell handle moves from places where they were comfortable?

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