Just in case anyone was living in a cave or taking an around the world sailing trip since this August, Carlos Zambrano had a very bad day on August 12. After giving up 5 home runs to the Atlanta Braves, Zambrano got himself ejected from the game by throwing at Chipper Jones twice. That’s not the part that got Zambrano in trouble with the Cubs. That was packing up everything in his locker and leaving before the game was over, and telling trainers he was going to retire.
That led to the Cubs placing Big Z on the disqualified list for 30 days, and then telling Zambrano to stay home for the few weeks of the season that remained after that. The general consensus following Zambrano’s latest outburst was that the Cubs had to get rid of him.
This is a problematic scenario for several reasons. To start, Zambrano had the worst season of his career in 2011 (4.82 ERA, 4.59 FIP, 4.34 xFIP) even before he was effectively suspended by the team. Then there was that whole effectively being suspended by the team thing. Those two items tend to reduce a player’s value. On top of that, Zambrano is owed $18 million in 2012, the final year of his contract unless he miraculously finishes in the top four in Cy Young voting next season.
For the Cubs to trade Zambrano this offseason, they will essentially have to pick up the entire remainder of the contract and accept almost nothing in return. On top of that, they will have to fill Zambrano’s spot in the rotation by paying someone else. Just as a reminder, even in such a bad year Zambrano was the Cubs’ third best starting pitcher in 2011.
I will completely admit that Zambrano can be a distraction. But what would he be a distraction from in 2012? Let’s be honest here: the Cubs are probably not going to be a good team next season. Theo Epstein has given no indication that the Cubs are going to go big into free agency next season, an indication that he may agree with me that the Cubs won’t be ready to compete in 2012.
This is my idea: Get Zambrano on board with new management. Then pray really hard that he pitches well for the first half of the season. I have had discussions with others who have raised the valid point that Zambrano probably cannot add significant value in the first half of the season. But what if Zambrano puts up an ERA in the mid to low 3’s next season? He is capable of doing that. It might be something of an illusion, but if Starlin Castro improves defensively, the Cubs could actually have a pretty good defensive team in 2012 helping their pitchers out (please just note that I said could, not will.)
But if Z puts up an ERA at or under 3.50 in the first half of the season and behaves like an adult, is it unimaginable that he could be the best pitcher available on the trade market coming into July 2012? Carlos Zambrano is worth essentially nothing right now. His value might not go up next season, but it certainly cannot go down any more either. In a season where the Cubs will not be playing for much anything of meaning, I do not see a need for the Cubs to eat Zambrano’s contract when he holds the lowest value of his career. One of the most basic lessons in the stock market is to never sell low unless you have no other choice. The Cubs still have a choice here, and should keep that in mind when deciding what to with Big Z.