Cincinnati Reds v Chicago Cubs

Marlins acquire Carlos Zambrano and $15 million from the Cubs for Chris Volstad

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UPDATE, 7:31 PM: ESPN Chicago’s Bruce Levine says the deal is done. It’s Zambrano for Volstad, with the Cubs eating $15 million of the $18 million remaining on Zambrano’s contract.

UPDATE, 7:12 PM: According to CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman, the Marlins are sending right-hander Chris Volstad to the Cubs as part of the Big Z trade, which could be finalized sometime Thursday.

UPDATE, 5:40 PM: So much for Zambrano staying in Chicago. Just hours after Epstein’s radio interview Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com reports that the Marlins are close to acquiring Zambrano from the Cubs.

He’d have to waive his no-trade clause first, but Rosenthal believes Zambrano would do so to pitch for manager Ozzie Guillen and it’s no secret that the Marlins have been shopping for another veteran starter.

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Carlos Zambrano’s odds of remaining with the Cubs increased significantly when Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer took over the front office from Jim Hendry, but he’s still far from a sure thing to be with Chicago on Opening Day.

During an interview with WGN radio today Epstein was asked about Zambrano’s status and gave a pretty interesting answer:

The Carlos Zambrano of 2011 and years previous can’t fit into the culture that we have here. Change needs to happen and change will happen. Either he’ll change and buy in and fit into this culture–and I understand there are a lot of skeptics around about that, and I understand that, and frankly, I’m skeptical as well.

He needs to prove to us that he can change and be part of this culture or we’ll change the personnel and move forward with people who are proud to be Cubs and treat their teammates with respect, treat the fans with respect and can be part of a winning culture in the Cubs’ clubhouse.

Epstein focusing on the clubhouse culture is … well, let’s say noteworthy considering how the Red Sox’s clubhouse culture fell apart in the month or two before he left Boston.

Clearly if the Cubs can get any kind of decent prospect or meaningful payroll relief in exchange for Zambrano they’ll gladly trade him, but there isn’t a whole lot of benefit to eating his entire $18 million salary just to make him go away.

Rob Manfred on robot umps: “In general, I would be a keep-the-human-element-in-the-game guy.”

KANSAS CITY, MO - APRIL 5:  Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred talks with media prior to a game between the New York Mets and Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on April 5, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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Craig covered the bulk of Rob Manfred’s quotes from earlier. The commissioner was asked about robot umpires and he’s not a fan. Via Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports:

Manfred was wrong to blame the player’s union’s “lack of cooperation” on proposed rule changes, but he’s right about robot umps and the strike zone. The obvious point is that robot umps cannot yet call balls and strikes with greater accuracy than umpires. Those strike zone Twitter accounts, such as this, are sometimes hilariously wrong. Even the strike zone graphics used on television are incorrect and unfortunate percentage of the time.

The first issue to consider about robot umps is taking jobs away from people. There are 99 umps and more in the minors. If robot umpiring was adopted in collegiate baseball, as well as the independent leagues, that’s even more umpires out of work. Is it worth it for an extra one or two percent improvement in accuracy?

Personally, the fallibility of the umpires adds more intrigue to baseball games. There’s strategy involved, as each umpire has tendencies which teams can strategize against. For instance, an umpire with a more generous-than-average strike zone on the outer portion of the plate might entice a pitcher to pepper that area with more sliders than he would otherwise throw. Hitters, knowing an umpire with a smaller strike zone is behind the dish, may take more pitches in an attempt to draw a walk. Or, knowing that information, a hitter may swing for the fences on a 3-0 pitch knowing the pitcher has to throw in a very specific area to guarantee a strike call or else give up a walk.

The umpires make their mistakes in random fashion, so it adds a chaotic, unpredictable element to the game as well. It feels bad when one of those calls goes against your team, but fans often forget the myriad calls that previously went in their teams’ favor. The mistakes will mostly even out in the end.

I haven’t had the opportunity to say this often, but Rob Manfred is right in this instance.

Report: MLB approves new rule allowing a dugout signal for an intentional walk

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 29:  MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred laughs during a ceremony naming the 2016 winners of the Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the Year Award and the Trevor Hoffman National League Reliever of the Year Award before Game Four of the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field on October 29, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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ESPN’s Howard Bryant is reporting that Major League Baseball has approved a rule allowing for a dugout signal for an intentional walk. In other words, baseball is allowing automatic intentional walks. Bryant adds that this rule will be effective for the 2017 season.

MLB has been trying, particularly this month, to improve the pace of play. Getting rid of the formality of throwing four pitches wide of the strike zone will save a minute or two for each intentional walk. There were 932 of them across 2,428 games last season, an average of one intentional walk every 2.6 games. It’s not the biggest improvement, but it’s something at least.

Earlier, Commissioner Rob Manfred was upset with the players’ union’s “lack of cooperation.” Perhaps his public criticism was the catalyst for getting this rule passed.

Unfortunately, getting rid of the intentional walk formality will eradicate the chance of seeing any more moments like this: