View From The Bleachers

August 13, 2011

Postgame 119 – Zambrano Retires?

Filed under: General — Jedi Johnson @ 1:00 am

The Final Straw
Who can say what happens in the mind of Carlos Zambrano. He is enigmatic and mercurial, but that only scratches the surface. He’s been paid as a No. 1 starter, yet possesses the demeanor of a petulant 1st grader.

Carlos is no stranger to controversy or conflict. But something felt a bit different on this Friday night in Atlanta. This time there was no one to blame but Carlos. In prior years his catcher, his first baseman, his manager, countless umpires, and even a Gatorade cooler have found themselves in his path. But in Atlanta, Carlos was alone and stranded on the mound – after perhaps the most disappointing performance of his career, he resorted to throwing aggressively at Chipper Jones in what appeared to be an effort to get himself ejected.

Beginnings
Carlos made his debut for the Cubs in 2001 as a baby-faced 20 year old (or so they say). He was largely unimpressive in very limited action mostly from the bullpen. He made huge strides the following year, especially as a starter. From 2002 through the end of last year, he posted annual ERAs under 4.00 – and that was just his pitching.

Managers don’t regularly count on their pitcher to produce much at the plate, but Zambrano always over-delivered in this regard. Though he started the 2003 season with one hit in two years, he racked up 18 in 2002 and has posted a batting average of .217 or higher in 8 of the last 9 seasons. He’s also provided some pop with 23 career home runs. He’s easily one of the best hitting pitchers in baseball history – possibly the best in the modern era.

2003
During the playoff run of 2003, Carlos was in some ways the “other” starter. In a playoff rotation that featured Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, and Matt Clement, it was Zambrano who would draw the role of “4th starter.” (Yes, I realize that Zambrano was the Game 2 NLDS starter, and Game 1 NLCS starter – that had more to do with scheduling, availability, road vs. home, and of course the crazy Dusty factor). Zambrano didn’t win any of his three starts in that postseason, even though twice he was staked to first-inning leads. Even at 22, Carlos’ ability to come up small in big games was becoming evident.

Opening Days
After Matt Clement was let go, Mark Prior turned into the forerunner of Greg Oden, and Kerry Wood decided he wanted an arm surgery named after him too, Carlos was the “ace” left standing. That also meant that he became the Cubs Opening Day starter. He opened the season on the mound from 2006-2010. The Cubs were 3-3 in those games, Zambrano was 1-2 – and lucky to be that.

In his first turn as No. 1 the Cubs would provide him with an enviable cushion. It was 7-0 after an inning and a half, but with the score at 9-2 and the bases loaded in the bottom of the fifth, Carlos walked the pitcher with the bases loaded. Dusty had seen enough and yanked Carlos even though he was one-out from qualifying for the win.

He suffered a similar fate in 2006 when the Cubs jumped out to a 5-0 lead but he’d given it all back before he got the final out of the fifth. Dusty yanked him after 4.2 innings again. (In both 2005 & 2006, the Cubs would score 16 runs in big wins – Zambrano had two no-decisions)

The Cubs lost three of the next four Opening Day games; Zambrano pitched well in 2008 (the Fukudome game) and 2009 (when he captured his only win against the Astros). His final Opening Day start was last year in Atlanta, when Jason Heyward and the Braves tagged him for 8 runs – Carlos only got 4 outs.

In all, Carlos pitched 28.1 innings on Opening Day and surrendered 17 ERs…ouch!

Bravado & Aggression
To the casual baseball fan, Carlos was known for his raw and unhindered aggression – often times directed at his teammates – and for his bold claims about what he or the Cubs would be accomplishing in the coming season.

He famously tussled with Michael Barrett and Derrek Lee in the dugout on separate occasions after he felt that each had cost him runs in the previous half-inning. He also got medieval on a Gatorade container; perhaps it had contributed to his demise on the mound as well. Each “incident” was followed by an apology, the sincerity of which was always questioned, and then Carlos would proceed in lightheartedly downplaying the whole event as much as possible.

When the Cubs sent him to rehab after the Lee incident (to get his anger under control) there was no way to put a positive spin on it. Carlos had to boldly proclaim that we’d be seeing a different attitude on the mound and in the clubhouse. No one believed it would last.

Bold proclamations weren’t new to Carlos; he had become legendary for predicting a World Series appearance for the Cubs or a Cy Young Award for himself. Spring training seemed to be the time that reporters would bait Carlos into saying some that would come back to bite him in the fall.

Friday’s game only further proves that he’s never mastered his aggression or tamed his tongue.

The Good Times
Amidst the constant controversy and turmoil that surrounded much of Carlos’ career, there were a lot of good times.

In 2008, the Cubs found themselves in Milwaukee playing 2 games against the Astros. Hurricane Ike and Bud Selig had conspired to benefit the Brewers. In the end, it was Carlos who would benefit the most. He turned in the signature game of his career, a no-hitter – registering 10 strikeouts and only 1 walk. It was the Cubs first no-hitter since Milt Pappas threw one in 1972.

Until 2008 Carlos had been a workhorse, registering more than 200 IP in the previous 5 seasons as a full-time starter. From 2008 onward, his career was marred by injuries and periods of ineffectiveness or outright rebellion that even relegated him to the bullpen. But he always managed to get that ERA back below 4.00 and six times he won at least 13 games.

The at-bats, especially when they led to home runs, were a joy to watch. Carlos would swing away in every situation, sometimes even breaking his bat as he walked back after a strikeout. But when he got a hold of one you knew it was gone.

About Those Home Runs
You’d think that a pitcher hitting a home run would bolster his confidence and narrow his focus on the mound – he’d done more than his job at the plate already, it was now just time to pitch. With Carlos, it was often the opposite.

More than once Carlos would belt a long blast and then lose total focus on the mound. Whether it was an adrenaline rush or a mental lapse that stunted him, that next half-inning was always nervous. Would Carlos be sharp? Or would he start walking successive hitters providing the opponent with a big inning that undermined his recent offensive prowess?

Retirement
Carlos first talked about retirement openly and seriously in 2009. He indicated that he’d finish his current contract – that would be through the end of 2012 (or 2013, depending on the option). It’s certainly not hard to imagine that Carlos is beyond the 30 years old that he’s reported at – but retirement in 2012 seemed premature. And with Carlos, none of us believed he woke up with the same perspective two days in a row; surely it was a fleeting fancy.

He’s No John Kruk
Kruk famously walked off the field after a routine single; Carlos is leaving after an anything-but-routine 4.1 IP, 5 HR allowed, and an ejection to top it off debacle of a start. It’s the baseball equivalent of selling low; for his image and public persona nothing could be worse than Carlos quitting tonight. That alone gives me the belief that perhaps he will don the #38 for the Cubs again.

Zambrano has always relished proving his “haters” to be wrong, and in walking away he validates every opinion ever held against him. He may not be able to completely repair his reputation, but he doesn’t need to leave a narrative that practically writes itself as an indictment of his career.

A Team Perspective
It’s probably a debate better suited for a separate column, but would the Cubs even take him back at this point? Without explicit knowledge of his contract, it seems that the Cubs might have some recourse to void his deal – at least in part – if he, as it’s claimed, has cleaned out his locker and left the team entirely. Maybe after a day or two we’ll know more, but at this point I think you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in the Cubs front office that genuinely wants Zambrano back…I doubt the clubhouse is much different.

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  • walterj

    zambrano proved he was in the same sorry class as sosa .i hope he does retire so his salary will be off the books , but if he decides to not retire , i hope the cubs are smart enough to just part ways . we’ll see .

  • Buddy

    I hope the Cubs dont take Zambrano back, but they probably will.

  • BLPCB

    We should see if the White Sox will take him. He’s Ozzie’s 4th son. I’d give them Zambrano for Danks.

  • BLPCB

    Actually, scratch that. No way the White Sox would make that trade. Zambrano for Peavy. The salary is a wash, both guys are done after 2012. (unless their options for 2013 are picked up.)

  • Buddy

    No team is going to give the Cubs as much as a bag of baseballs for Zambrano.

  • Doc Raker

    Zambrano’s reaction makes perfect sense to me. My assumption is the Cubs tried to deal him during the trading period. No one wanted him, his contract and his petulant demeanor. He is upset that he can’t get out of Chicago because he knows he is disliked by the fans and he now knows he is unwanted by the club. He can’t get people out like he used to and he has a pile of cash sitting in the bank. Why bother to continue Zambrano must figure. I agree with you Carlos, void the rest of your contract and leave the Cubs alone. If Zambrano changes his mind and wants to come back Hendry should do everything within his power to suspend him without pay- I am sure the MLBPA would file a grievance against such action-if Hendry allows Zambrano back in the locker room it is just another reason to fire Jim Hendry.

  • Doc Raker

    Pray to Allah that Zambrano talks Soriano into retiring with him.

  • cap’n obvious

    This would be Hendry’s best roster move in years. Frees up wasted salary dough, gets rid of the biggest dugout cancer in Cub history, and calms the nerves of every gatorade bucket and dispenser in the league. I hope the Cubs send the big baby a box of oversized diapers and a DFA notice. Underachieving douchebag.

  • Buddy

    Prediction…1. Zambrano changes his mind and says he is sorry. 2. The Cubs take him back with some conditions (more therapy, etc). 3. Zambrano is a Cub in 2012. I hope I’m wrong.

  • Jedi

    Buddy, the way the Cubs so quickly verified Zambrano’s “retirement” is going to make it hard for him to just walk back through the door. They’ll likely put conditions upon his return and if they’re smart the conditions will so embarrass him, that he’ll be motivated to stay retired.

    Remember, this is a guy who didn’t want the anger rehab or bullpen delegation…that should be the starting point, throw in a formal apology, some community service, and no guarantee that he starts again this season, and I think he walks.

  • Buddy

    I hope you’re right Jedi, but I’m not holding my breath.

  • Jeremiah Johnson

    Nice job, Jedi. I’m still pretty bummed about how all this went down.

    I won’t pretend to be able to defend all of Z’s misdeeds throughout his Cubs tenure. But I always felt like most of his problems came down to immaturity and stupidity, rather than something more sinister, as many sportswriters would have us believe. Yes, he can be a bad teammate at times–certainly last night was a good example. But you get the sense that lots of baseball writers (and Paul Sullivan, in particular) have been openly rooting for something like this to happen. Look at the dominant storylines for Zambrano in the last few seasons. Either it was a tongue-in-cheek miracle that he held it together and kept a cool head, or his bad behavior was reinforcing what they always thought about him. From a public relations standpoint, the deck has been stacked against him for a long time.

    That doesn’t absolve him, but I do think it means we’ll never get the full story of what really happened last night. On the face of it, his actions seem to contradict what he’s said all year about wanting to stay with the Cubs. I doubt anyone will try to get an answer on that when they can just chalk it up as more evidence that he’s a clubhouse cancer.

    And consider for a moment how the team has jerked him around for the last couple seasons. Last year he goes from the starting rotation, to the bullpen, then back to the rotation, then gets forced into anger management, then back as a starter to finish the season. This year has hasn’t had his role switched on him, but he has had to endure an incessant string of trade rumors, including Jim Hendry openly begging teams to take him off our hands. It’s no wonder to me that he wants to get away from this team. And yes, I realize it was Zambrano’s own bad behavior that gave the Cubs license to treat him that way. There’s no denying he’s made a bed for himself no one could sleep in.

    I spose I just never thought he got the credit he should have for the “Good Z,” while the “Bad Z” became his dominant persona over the years. And I’ll miss what he brought to the team–particularly the fire he played with, which is undeniably in short supply with the rest of the Cubs.

    Bummer.

  • Buddy

    Nobody ever said it publicly (that I can remember), but I’m guessing the bullpen demotion was either punishment for something that happened behind closed doors, or a kick in the ass/attention getter. I will agree with Jeremiah to some extent regarding “Good Z,” although being fiery only matters if you produce on the field too. (In the pros, a fiery turd is no more useful than a quiet turd.) From just a performance standpoint, he was a better Cub than how he’ll likely be remembered. Was he Randy Johnson? Of course not. But he was a solid Major League starter for many years. Having said all that, one way or another he has to go. And finally, hopefully nobody on planet Earth pays any attention to anything Paul Sullivan writes or says.

  • Jeremiah Johnson

    Buddy, it’s entirely possible that the bullpen stint was a behind-the-scenes punishment. But with a player as widely disliked as Zambrano, why bother to keep it behind the scenes? Not sure the Cubs would have chosen to look that incompetent just to protect his reputation, when they so often let it be damaged elsewhere. If it had been another pitcher, I’d totally buy it, almost without question. But with Z, it seems pretty uncharacteristic.

    Then again, I’m trying to make sense of Jim Hendry’s thoughts and intentions. And that way madness lies.

  • Buddy

    I don’t think Hendry sent him to the pen. I’m sure that was the manager’s call. And to protect his player, the manager could have easily made up that “we need him in our crappy bullpen” story. However, you make a good point. And let’s be honest, it’s almost impossible to keep things “behind closed doors” in this era of sports media coverage.

  • Jeremiah Johnson

    I totally get what you’re saying, and my memory of how it all came down might be off, but didn’t Lou always kinda seem almost apologetic about the whole thing. Always seemed to me like it was a decision he had to buy into more than one he made for himself.

    Either way, it doesn’t change the fact that Zambrano brought most of this on himself. My main point was that the grudge match between him and the media means we’ll probably never know what really happened, not just yesterday, but through much of his career.

  • Buddy

    My memory gets worse every year, but the way I recall it, the Cubs tried to sell it as “this move improves our bullpen.” Maybe I’m “misremembering” as Roger Clemens like to say.

  • http://twitter.com/#!/D2Bubba Jeremiah

    No, I think that’s how it was presented. We had too many starters, and Zambrano wasn’t doing well at the time, so it was sold as a way to beef up the bullpen and get him back on track. And it accomplished neither goal.

  • Norm

    This Zambrano garbage could be the luckiest thing that has happened to the Cubs in a long time. Doubt it, but if the Cubs can get out of paying him next year….fantastic!

    I don’t see Marshall as a good starter. He’s good now because he’s a reliever. He goes back to starting, he loses MPH off his pitches and then he’s throwing 87-88 mph fastballs that get crushed. He found his niche, he should have been traded to get someone that contributes to more than 6% of the teams innings.

  • BLPCB

    We should make Marshall the closer to add false value into his stock and get a higher return

  • Buddy

    True, he wasn’t great in those 59 starts, but I think he’s a better pitcher with better command then he was back then. It’s worth a try in my book. Let’s find out if he’s a better starter now than he was in 2006-2008. To your point, exploring a Marshall trade this winter is OK by me as well. Shop him in the offseason with Byrd and see what kind of young player(s) gets offered in return. Whenever this team gets good again, it won’t be because the Cubs held on tight to Sean Marshall.

  • Jeremiah Johnson

    Just saw on Twitter that the Cubs have DQ’d Zambrano. Gotta figure he’s done playing baseball for the rest of the season.

  • BLPCB

    Just got an iPod alert, Bozo is on the DQ list. Can’t be paid for 30 days and he doesn’t get service time. Great, now we are going to be held hostage this winter by someone we don’t want. Just like we were with Sosa in 2004-05 and Hasbro 2 years ago

  • Buddy

    We’ll see what happens once the Union gets involved.

  • Buddy

    From ESPN.com…

    “After speaking with Zambrano’s agent, Barry Praver, on Saturday, Jim Hendry said it’s his understanding that Zambrano is not retiring at this point.”

    It should get very interesting from here.

  • Jedi

    I figured it was a safe bet to couch this piece with in a lot of uncertainty. Kind of expected Zambrano would do something other than catch the first plane back to Venuzuela.

  • Big Z

    Wake up you clowns. I baited Hendry into DQing me. I’ve got $30 million in my Venezuela bank account, and those are American dollars! (That’s 128,856,599 Bolivars for anyone counting!)So I’m not hurting. You Cubs fans, on the other hand, don’t have anything to look forward to for years and years! Believe me, management isn’t doing anything to make this team better. Time to jump ship like me!

  • Seymour Butts

    I’m solidly behind Buddy’s earlier prediction. Z will pitch for the Cubs again. But maybe not this year.

  • Buddy

    OK Big Z. I’ll retire too. Er, wait…Maybe not.

  • Keith

    What difference does it make who’s on the field as long as Hendry remains the GM?

  • Doc Raker

    JJ hit it square on the head, stupidity and immaturity is Zambrano’s problem which I like to call “a 2 cent head and a million dollar arm”. At this point in his career he isn’t going to change and it will be a union vs management legal fight as the Cubs try to DQ the rest of his contract. Let’s hope the union loses this fight.

  • Doc Raker

    On XM yesterday they were comparing and contrasting the Mets and the Cubs as two teams that need to dismantle and rebuild. The first thing needed is the clubs need to honestly assess where they are, ‘an organizational picture from 10,000 feet’. The Mets have done this and are dismantling in an effort to rebuild. The criticism of the Cubs and Hendry is they refuse to honestly assess the team. They sighted Hendry’s refusal to consider a trade for Pena and some others as being unrealistic in believing this team can win anytime soon. Just more of what we already know, Jim Hendry is not taking this club in the right direction and until someone does they won’t even begin to get better. If it is so obvious to everyone in baseball why is Jim Hendry still the Cubs GM?

  • Doc Raker

    Here is a framework question they brought up on XM which I thought was a good question for us. Who on the Cubs would you want on the team in 3 years? Only those players stay, everyone else is traded, released or let go to free agency. I agree with this rebuilding philosophy and only have a few names on my list. Castro, em…………..maybe not even a few.

  • http://Cubsandbearsfan Brad Purcell

    Big Z needs to go!! We need to keep Castro, Barney Cashner (if he can stay healty), Garza Campana and Ramirez. Get sme young good pitchers and a couple veteran outfielders with some pop in their bats!! Get a new GM and get rid of q ball and get a REAL major league manager!!

  • Doc Raker

    You want Aram in 3 years? If I am rebuilding for 3 years out I do not want any high priced FA between now and then which puts today’s favorites like Marshall as expendable. We can lose without them just as easy while freeing up payroll to rebuild correctly.

  • Buddy

    Castro, Garza, Brett Jackson, maybe Soto. Assuming they sign, I’ll add Javier Baez and Dan Vogelbach to my list.

  • Jedi

    Sounds like Coleman is going to get Zambrano’s start…and Quade is pimping the idea that the bullpen wasn’t fresh enough and Carlos HAD to pitch the fifth. I don’t quite understand, Grabow had thrown twice before in August and not since the 6th; Ortiz had thrown twice, and not since the 4th; Russell had thrown twice and only had thrown 7 pitches the day before and 8 pitches on the 4th. Just what constitutes “fresh” – sure Marmol, Marshall, etc. might not have been fresh, but Ortiz and Russell are former starters…Quade is beyond dumb if he thinks our bullpen was too taxed to pick up the game in the fifth for Zambrano.

  • http://bats Dusty Baylor

    Last year’ “Zambrano was struggling” before he was sent to the bullpen is a fallacy. He has his yearly opening day bomb of course, but here are his starts before the demotion:
    1- 1 1/3 IP, 8 ER, 2 HR, 1K, 2BB loss- Typical Z opening day start
    2- 7IP, 3ER,1HR, 9K, 2BB, win
    3- 5IP, 3ER, 1HR, 7K, 3BB,
    4- 6IP, 2ER, 0 HR, 9K, 3BB, loss

    so he went 1-2, with a terrible 1st start, a bad third start, and 2 quaality starts. This was a pitcher who has been in the rotation for most of the last decade, and they moved him to the bullpen for that? It had to have been a disciplinary move.

  • Doc Raker

    They should of moved him to Des Moines.

  • Buddy

    As we predicted this weekend, he has publicly apologized. Will the Cubs bring him back with conditions? Anger management, therapy, etc. What’s your best guess?

  • Doc Raker

    I have no guess, my hope is no, the Cubs don’t allow Z back.

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