The Cubs would love to trade embattled closer Carlos Marmol. Fantasy owners feel the same way. But come on now, who's kidding whom?
Chicago's opening-day victory at Pittsburgh on Monday was a walk in the park for eight innings; the Cubs pushed across three runs while the Pirates couldn't do a thing against dominating Jeff Samardzija (2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 9 K). It seemed like a perfect setup for Marmol to work, a three-run lead against an ordinary opponent. Just avoid a total meltdown, then shake hands. Start the year with a rocking-chair save.
Alas, Marmol was born under a bad sign (and probably with a three-ball count). He fell behind all four batters he faced and only retired one man; Garrett Jones gratuitously swung at a terrible 3-2 pitch in the dirt to open the inning. The Bucs followed with a hit batsman and stolen base (Andrew McCutchen, fake-baseball hero), an RBI single and a walk. Marmol missed the zone on 10 of his 19 pitches, par for the course; the ball moves plenty, but he has no idea where it's going.
With the victory hanging in the balance, manager Dale Sveum didn't fool around. He summoned lefty James Russell to record the second out (forcing Neil Walker to bat right handed), then called on Japanese rookie Kyuji Fujikawa to get the final man. Fujikawa, the expected closer-in-waiting behind Marmol, threw two tidy strikes to Russell Martin, ending the game on a routine fly to center field. Cubs win, Cubs win.
Fujikawa, 32, is your add of interest in Yahoo! pools; he was owned in a mere 37 percent of leagues as the day began. He came to the Cubs on a two-year, $9.5 million deal, closing the book on a super relief career in Japan. He piled up 220 saves and 102 holds over his 12 Japanese seasons, with a 1.77 ERA and 0.96 WHIP. The strikeout/walk ratio (914 whiffs, 207 free passes) also makes a statement.
I don't know when the Cubs will officially pull the plug on Marmol; they obviously have a clear incentive to fix him if they think it's even remotely possible. He did knock-and-ping his way to 20 saves on 23 chances last year, though it was painful to watch just about all of them. The Cubs aren't pegged to be a prime contender in 2013, so the team might be patient, not proactive, in the ninth inning for a while.
That said, Sveum was ready with a quick hook Monday when needed, and I'll be shocked if Fujikawa isn't eventually the team's designated stopper. Maybe the baton is passed this week, maybe it's a waiting game. The handshake hustle is vastly different from league-to-league, so do what you need to do – before it's too late.
Welcome back, save chasers. Let's have a fun year.
Post-script: Sveum didn't throw Marmol under the bus after the game, which is to be expected. ''Not making any changes or anything like that,'' Sveum told the Associated Press. ''[Marmol] just didn't have it today.'' But as fake-baseball owners, we know the risks (and potential rewards) here. This could be a situation in flux very quickly.