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Theo Epstein was prepared to cut Carlos Zambrano, if necessary

“Ozzie [Guillen is] very confident thhe can help him” Marlins president Larry Beinfest said Carlos Zambrano. | Paul Beaty~AP

“Ozzie [Guillen is] very confident that he can help him,” Marlins president Larry Beinfest said of Carlos Zambrano. | Paul Beaty~AP

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Updated: February 7, 2012 8:33AM

Cubs president Theo Epstein said he wasn’t trying to make a particular point when he traded Carlos Zambrano to the Miami Marlins for a choirboy this week.

“You don’t have to be a choirboy to be accepted into the Cubs’ clubhouse,’’ Epstein said after the trade became official Thursday.

But in making what promises to be the signature move of his first winter with the Cubs, Epstein also crafted a poetic ending to Zambrano’s story in Chicago, whether he likes it or not.

At the very least, the trade for pitcher — and former high school choirboy — Chris Volstad underscores how committed Epstein is to some of the changes he vowed to make when he took over baseball operations in October.

“We’re not running a popularity contest in our clubhouse,’’ he said. “You just have to be a good teammate and somebody who’s accountable and somebody the team can trust. Work hard, play hard. It’s not very difficult.’’

This was a trade that could be seen coming for three months, or as soon as Zambrano’s longtime pal Ozzie Guillen left the White Sox for Miami in September and began stumping for the cooler-bashing, catcher-punching, tantrum-throwing graduate of mandated anger-management therapy.

The Cubs and Marlins first talked about the possibility during the general managers meetings in ­November, Marlins president Larry Beinfest said. But it wasn’t until the Marlins failed to trade for the Oakland Athletics’ Gio Gonzalez and the Cubs failed to drum up a wider trade market that the deal got done this week.

Epstein said Thursday he was prepared to release the Cubs’ six-time Opening Day starter before the start of the season if his skepticism over Zambrano’s latest trust-me vow — and mistrust expressed by every player he spoke with —persisted.

So what makes Beinfest think the Marlins will avoid the kind of meltdowns that defined Zambrano’s 11 seasons in Chicago?

The short answer is, he doesn’t. The more involved answer is, the faith he’s putting in the relationship between Guillen and Zambrano that extends to their families and roots in Venezuela.

“It would be hard for me to say everything’s going to be perfect and incident-free, given the history,’’ Beinfest said. “But Ozzie’s very confident that he can help him.

“We went into this with our eyes wide open. Ozzie was a major force in this trade.”

That relationship is why Zambrano agreed to waive his no-trade rights, even after telling Epstein during their lunch meeting in November that he didn’t want to consider the word “trade.”

The deal doesn’t affect the Cubs’ payroll. The Marlins will assume a portion of Zambrano’s $18 million salary in 2012 equal to Volstad’s salary through the arbitration process (expected to be $2.5 million to $3 million).

Zambrano also agreed to eliminate his 2013 vesting option — which was unlikely to vest anyway — for a $100,000 bonus clause tied to the National League Comeback Player of the Year award.

Additionally, the Cubs agreed to surrender 24 of Zambrano’s 30 days of 2011 earnings still in dispute after his suspension and subsequent grievance regarding his walkout in August. The six days of pay loss amounted to a roughly $600,000 fine for his actions.

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