MESA, Ariz. This was last September, when the Boston Red Sox were in the middle of an epic collapse and no one knew who would wind up running the Cubs.
As reporters crowded around his locker at Wrigley Field, Carlos Marmol laughed off the uncertainty about who might be the closer in 2012: You want somebody else?
Theo Epstein waved goodbye to Aramis Ramirez, Marmols closest friend in the clubhouse and the godfather to his daughter. The new president of baseball operations also traded away Carlos Zambrano, who called out Marmol during last seasons WE STINKS! rant.
Yet there was Marmol on Monday at Fitch Park, back for his 13th year in the organization, ready to close again. He laughed when asked what life is like without Zambrano around.
Its different, Marmol said. He was a good guy, though. Hes got his own problems. Thats not my business. I try to take care of my business. Everybody has to take care of their business."
Except in St. Louis, a reporter joked, referencing Zambranos meltdown after Marmol blew a save against Ryan Theriot and the Cardinals last June.
I dont know, man, Marmol said. Everybody says whatever they want to say. Just keep it quiet. I dont care what anybody says.He apologized to me. I dont know why, because I didnt hear anything he said. I dont read the papers. It doesnt bother me.
But last season, something got to Marmol, who led the majors with 10 blown saves and lost the closers job at one point. He says hes shed about 10 pounds and will stop experimenting with a cut fastball.
I got a little lost, Marmol said. Im trying to forget about the cutter and everything from last year.
The Cubs want Marmol to focus on his strengths, the devastating slider that can completely baffle hitters (and keep their fans on edge). First-year manager Dale Sveum told him to get rid of the cutter, while new pitching coach Chris Bosio is stressing a simple adjustment, the right way to align his shoulders.
All of this is trying to push Marmol back to where he was earlier in his career, an All-Star setup man in 2008 and a dominant closer in 2010. The eye-popping numbers from that year 38 saves in 43 chances, 15.99 strikeouts per nine innings pitched earned him the big contract heading into 2011.
It was a nice story, the 16-year-old kid the Cubs signed out of the Dominican Republic who at first resisted the idea of being converted into a pitcher striking it rich.
Marmol says the 20 million contract didnt get in his head: No, I dont worry about money. I try doing my job and stay away from thinking about (that).
Marmol will earn 7 million this season, before his salary jumps to 9.8 million in 2013. The economics obviously arent the same, but all winter long, Epstein focused on acquiring potential bounce-back players coming off disappointing years.
This isnt a complete change of scenery. But maybe listening to a few new voices and using the short-term memory essential to any closer will make all the difference.
To be honest with you, I lost a lot of confidence, Marmol said. But its a new year, (so) forget about that. (Were here now).