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Trade to Marlins unites Carlos Zambrano with Ozzie Guillen

In exchange for Carlos Zambrano (above) Cubs obtained right-hander Chris Volstad 25 potential starter from Marlins.  |  Tom

In exchange for Carlos Zambrano (above), the Cubs obtained right-hander Chris Volstad, 25, a potential starter, from the Marlins. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: February 6, 2012 9:42AM

For all the posturing about Carlos Zambrano getting yet another chance to “earn his way back’’ into the Cubs’ clubhouse and rotation, the team’s former ace was never in new team president Theo Epstein’s plans.

In a move anticipated for months — and, more important, a move Epstein needed to make for his own credibility — the Cubs finally agreed with the Miami Marlins on a deal that unites Zambrano with close friend Ozzie Guillen.

Sources on Wednesday confirmed multiple reports that an agreement is done that nets the Cubs right-hander Chris Volstad, 25, a first-time arbitration-eligible player with potential upside but an unimpressive track record.

The key for the Cubs is the addition by subtraction of the most combustible pitcher in the majors — a guy who burned his last bridge in the clubhouse on Aug. 12 when he abandoned the team during a game in Atlanta after a meltdown and ejection on the mound.

Zambrano, who told friends that night he was retiring, cleaned out his locker and left the stadium. He was placed on the disqualified list the next day and didn’t pitch again for the team.

That came just a few months after Zambrano declared himself “cured’’ following mandated anger-management therapy that resulted from his June 2010 tirade in the dugout at U.S. Cellular Field — which came just a year after throwing a ball into left field and smashing a Gatorade machine in anger over an umpire’s call, which came just two years after he punched his catcher, etc., etc.

The so-called culture change Epstein promised when he took over baseball operations is important enough to ownership and the new management team that the Cubs are paying about $15 million of the $18 million owed to Zambrano on the final year of his contract — the difference covering Volstad’s ­projected 2012 salary through arbitration.

Even after accepting Zambrano’s request for a sit-down and afterward suggesting another chance for the “very’’ contrite Zambrano, Epstein said, “From what I understand, he’s seemed that way before, so it’s a trust-but-verify situation.’’

More like a create-a-perception-of-value situation for a move that had to be made for Epstein to show he’s serious about changing the “culture’’ of me-first behavior that has afflicted the occasional big-money Cub — none more than Zambrano in recent years.

And the punch line might be that Epstein was able to trade Zambrano for a choir boy. Literally. The hulking, 6-8 pitcher sang in his high school choir.

It’s been widely speculated since Guillen left the White Sox for the Marlins in September that Zambrano would join him there, and Guillen — who has said for years he’s capable of effectively managing his longtime friend — has done little to quell the rumors.

Despite repeated public vows of love for Chicago and a strong desire to stay with the Cubs, Zambrano has privately told friends he has wanted out, according to sources, and in particular would waive his no-trade rights to pitch for Guillen.

As recently as last month’s winter meetings, Marlins sources told the Sun-Times that Miami’s aggressive winter would include acquiring Zambrano.

A six-time Opening Day starter for the Cubs, Zambrano is viewed as a back-of-the-rotation, low-risk flyer for a Marlins team that lost out to Washington in recent efforts to get Gio Gonzalez from Oakland.

Zambrano, 30, is still young and talented enough that many believe a change of scenery — and maybe even a chip on his shoulder — could result in a big season for him in the final year of his contract.

But few believed that was possible in Chicago.

Of course, Guillen said last month he bet somebody Zambrano would win at least 15 games for the Cubs in 2012 — to which one reporter responded by saying more likely he’d win 15 for the Marlins.

Said Guillen with a smile, “I’d take that.’’

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