Kindred: LeBron who? South Beach has new diva

2012-01-06T08:00:00Z 2012-01-06T19:05:03Z Kindred: LeBron who? South Beach has new divaBy Randy Kindred | rkindred@pantagraph.com pantagraph.com

So ends LeBron James’ reign as South Beach’s top diva. Carlos Zambrano is headed to Miami, and as Cub fans know all too well, nobody does diva better than the juvenile and volatile “Big Z.”

New Marlins’ manager Ozzie Guillen, late of the White Sox, said in 2010 — a day after Zambrano’s dugout meltdown at U.S. Cellular Field and subsequent suspension — that he could manage a player with Zambrano’s issues.

“Yes, I can, why not?” Guillen told the Chicago Tribune back then. “I’m not afraid (to manage) any player in baseball because I’m going to give them all the respect I can to perform for me.”

Let’s say it together. One, two, three …

Be careful what you wish for, Ozzie.

Even Guillen, a relative loon in his own right, will be no match for what goes on — or what doesn’t — in Zambrano’s mind. Being a fellow Venezuelan does not make Guillen qualified to deal with the rants and rage we’ve seen so routinely from his new pitcher.

In a few short months, the Marlins have assembled the most dysfunctional clubhouse/locker room in all of sports. They have a manager with a runaway tongue, an All-Star shortstop initially steamed about a move to third base, and now a pitcher who has lost several miles an hour off his fastball but none of his self-serving bravado.

The question is not can they all coexist, but rather, can Milton Bradley be far behind?

Guillen seems convinced he can turn Zambrano into a reliable, productive and well-behaved pitcher. If life is all about challenges, Ozzie’s will be fuller than most.

He is taking on a guy known to beat up teammates (Michael Barrett), Gatorade coolers and occasionally himself when things go awry. The Cubs’ willingness to pay $15 million of the $18 million owed him this year says everything about the baggage he brings.

Managing him will be a full-time job, a luxury Guillen does not have. Hanley Ramirez, the aforementioned All-Star shortstop, is a handful as well.

He is the baseball Randy Moss (“I play when I want to play!”), occasionally finding it inconvenient or a flat-out nuisance to run out ground balls or chase down pop flies.

He pouted last month when the Marlins signed free agent shortstop Jose Reyes to a long-term deal and Guillen indicated Ramirez would be moved to third.

Just this week, Ramirez let it be known that, yes, he will accept the switch. He approved it, as if he had right of refusal. Seems Guillen “sold him on the idea,” which is to say he pleaded with/begged him to give it a try.

Any glitch in the adjustment, as early as spring training, and Ramirez will be at the manager’s door. Guillen would be wise to request an office with two couches, one each for Zambrano and Ramirez.

All that matters in Theoville is Zambrano is someone else’s problem now. Yes, the Cubs will pay him $15 million to go away. But that’s $3 million less than they would have had to pay him and they get a 25-year-old former first-round draft pick in return.

Right-handed pitcher Chris Volstad struggled last year, going 5-13 with a 4.89 ERA, but makes far less money and his rights belong to the Cubs for three more years. If nothing else, at 6-foot-8 he can replace the clubhouse light bulbs, a job left open by the trade of 6-7 Sean Marshall to the Reds.

This much is certain. The North Side won’t be the same without Zambrano. Neither will South Beach.

Move over, LeBron.

Randy Kindred is at rkindred@pantagraph.com. The Kindred Blog: www.pantagraph.com/blogs

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