Cubs fans better be preparing their boos for someone else.
The Cubs’ decision Tuesday to designate reliever Carlos Marmol for assignment marks the end of a roller coaster career that featured too many recent struggles to warrant keeping him in the bullpen. The Cubs have 10 days to trade or release him. One way or another, this season likely represented Marmol’s last with the organization that signed him out of the Dominican Republic 14 years ago.
Marmol, in the final year of a three-year, $20 million contract extension, became a liability in the bullpen – inconsistent in the late innings while lacking confidence in his pitches. The Cubs hoped they could elevate Marmol’s trade stock by using him in high-leverage situations.
But Marmol was a big part of the Cubs’ inability to hold leads in the eighth and ninth innings. He blew three saves this season, perhaps the most spectacular coming June 16 at the Mets when Marmol retired only one of five batters he faced and surrendered four runs in the ninth, which included two home runs punctuated by Kirk Nieuwenhuis’ three-run, walk-off homer.
"I would say that the lack of support from the fans was part of the reason of the mental block that I suffered recently," Marmol told ESPN Deportes on Tuesday.
As of now, Marmol, 30, is still owed more than $5 million of the $9.8 million he makes this season. Although Marmol was never an issue in the clubhouse, his presence certainly wore on fans and even manager Dale Sveum at times. Sveum routinely fielded pre-game questions regarding Marmol from what situations he would use the right-hander to why he was struggling. When questions about Marmol on any given day would continue to mount, Sveum struggled to hide his exasperation.
For a Cubs team that has issues beyond Marmol, it was best for both sides to part ways. The only surprise was the Cubs’ decision to DFA Marmol now instead of closer to the trade deadline, when more trades could have been explored.
However, Theo Epstein and Co. evidently realized that as much as they hoped Marmol would garner interest from other teams, no one was willing to trade for a mentally broken reliever. The move also creates a roster spot for outfielder Brian Bogusevic, who hit .319 with 10 home runs and 32 RBIs in 78 games with Triple-A Iowa this season, and gives Sveum another left-handed bat.
Marmol’s days were clearly numbered. Although fellow reliever Shawn Camp arguably has been even worse than Marmol this season, Marmol became the whipping boy for fans’ frustrations in a season going nowhere, sick of seeing a Cubs win turn into a loss because of a reliever’s failure to command his pitches.
But it’s easy to forget Marmol’s run as one of the best relievers in the game or a slider, when at its best, that made major league hitters foolishly stand frozen in the batter’s box. From 2007 to 2010, Marmol had a 2.54 ERA and 61 saves with a ridiculous 12.9 strikeouts per nine innings and an All-Star appearance.
He was a big reason the Cubs won the division in 2007 and 2008. Yet all that success makes Marmol's rapid decline more stunning.
Fittingly, his final appearance at Wrigley Field on June 13 against the Reds was vintage Marmol: one inning pitched, one hit and three strikeouts, landing 12 of his 16 pitches for strikes.
It’s important to recognize Marmol’s willingness to take the heat for any bad outings and blown games. Unlike some major leaguers, Marmol always made himself available to the news media afterward, never hiding or declining to talk. Marmol took responsibility for his failures, and in that regard, more teams could use a Marmol in their clubhouse.
“I go out there and give 100 percent,” Marmol said after taking the loss May 4 against the Reds. “I don't think anything bad's going to happen. I don't think I'm going to walk people.”
The walks and bouts of wildness are entrenched in Marmol’s Cubs legacy. In a season littered with loss after loss, the bad moments far outshine Marmol's good moments. Ultimately, Marmol leaves the North Side as the organization's all-time leader in relief appearances to accompany 117 career saves. For all his success, Marmol will remain a divisive figure among Cubs fans for years to come.
• Meghan Montemurro covers the Cubs and White Sox for Shaw Media. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Inside the Cubs and Sox Insider blogs at NWHerald.com and on Twitter @InsideTheCubs and @Sox_Insider.