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In Ozzie they trust.
The Miami Marlins are counting on excitable Ozzie Guillen to have a calming influence on volatile Carlos Zambrano.
The plan may sound crazy, but say this for the Marlins: They've become harder to ignore.
Their latest offseason move was approved Thursday, when they acquired Zambrano from the Chicago Cubs for underachieving right-hander Chris Volstad. The Marlins believe Zambrano's career can be resuscitated by pairing him with fellow Venezuelan and good friend Guillen, the team's new manager.
Our expectations are high. We want to play in October, and we think we have the ballclub to do it. The pieces we've added have really transformed this team.
"Ozzie has a long and close relationship with Carlos," president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest said. "We went with Ozzie on this one. The bottom line was Ozzie just really, really felt confident about this deal."
In Chicago, Zambrano was a three-time All-Star, but he also feuded with teammates, management and umpires. The final straw came Aug. 12, when he was ejected from a game, cleaned out his locker and was suspended without pay.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Cubs General Manager Theo Epstein "realized Zambrano could never regain 'trust' in the clubhouse after his August walkout left players and management feeling "burned" again."
Epstein polled a number of players to get their take on Zambrano.
"I was skeptical," he said, adding "Every player I talked to articulated to me that Carlos really violated their trust. When you're talking about physical altercations with players repeatedly, when you're talking about physically walking out on the team, it's very hard to then have that player come back into the clubhouse and be trusted. In order to be a good teammate, there has to be a certain degree of trust and accountability."
In Miami, Beinfest hopes for the best but will be braced for a repeat.
"It would hard for me to say everything is going to be perfect and incident-free, given the guy's history," Beinfest said. "It may happen that he has a blowup or two. But Ozzie is very confident he can help him."
Those meetings on the mound should be entertaining. While managing the Chicago White Sox, Guillen underwent sensitivity training. On the north side of town, Zambrano attended anger management sessions. In 2010, Zambrano had a verbal altercation with then-teammate Derrek Lee, then dined that night with Guillen.
As part of the trade, the Marlins will pay $2.55 million of Zambrano's $18 million salary this year. The Cubs are responsible for the rest.
Volstad has a career record of 32-39 with a 4.59 ERA in 11 big league seasons. He was originally the Marlins' first-round pick in 2005.
"We've all been a little bit baffled by some of Chris' inconsistencies," Beinfest said.
If the Marlins can get Zambrano to settle down, the deal might be a steal. He went only 9-7 with a 4.82 ERA last year, but he's just 30 and could benefit from the change in scenery. His career record is 125-81, all with the Cubs from 2001 to 2011, and three times he finished in the top five in NL Cy Young balloting.
Beinfest said Zambrano lost a few miles per hour off his fastball last season, but Marlins scouts were impressed when they watched the right-hander pitch in winter ball in Venezuela.
"We're confident his competitiveness and experience will help carry him if the stuff is down a little bit," Beinfest said.
Johnson, whose 2011 season was curtailed by right shoulder inflammation, is expected to begin throwing off a mound this mouth.
Buehrle was one of three All-Star acquired during a December spending spree that significantly upgraded the perennially overlooked Marlins. They also signed shortstop Jose Reyes and closer Heath Bell.
"Our expectations are high," Beinfest said. "We want to play in October, and we think we have the ballclub to do it. The pieces we've added have really transformed this team."
The Marlins might not be done shopping. Beinfest said they remain interested in outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, a 25-year-old Cuban defector who has yet to be granted free-agent status.
Zambrano waived his no-trade provision along with a conditional $19.25 million player option for 2013 that could have been exercised only if he finished among the top four in this year's Cy Young Award voting. As part of the trade, he gets a $100,000 bonus added to his salary this year if he wins comeback player of the year. The Marlins would be responsible for the bonus.
In addition, the players' association and Major League Baseball settled a grievance filed after the Cubs placed Zambrano on the disqualified list for 30 days without pay in August. Instead of losing $2,946,429, Zambrano will lose six days pay, or $589,286, which gains him an additional $2,357,143.
Zambrano cleaned out his locker and talked about retiring after giving up five homers and being ejected during a loss to Atlanta on Aug. 12. His ejection followed two inside pitches to Chipper Jones.
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.