Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Carlos Zambrano is set to come off of the disabled list. Despite what some hot-headed reporters say (David Kaplan?), Zambrano was not injured throwing out the first pitch at a Chicago Bandits softball game in honor of a charity event, he tweaked hiis back in his last start against the San Francisco Giants. To make room for Zambrano on the 25 man roster, the Cubs have optioned reliever Chris Carpenter to Iowa.
Now to add more substance to this story, I’m going to say that this will be a big start for Zambrano. Why? Because the July 31 trade deadline is two weeks away, and you would have to imagine that the Cubs would love to move Zambrano if the opportunity arises. Granted Zambrano makes $18 million in 2012, the final year of his contract, there still is a slight chance that the Cubs will be able to trade the controversial pitcher. The New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Cincinnati Reds, and Detroit Tigers are among the top contenders looking for starting pitching help. In addition, all of those teams are looking for a front-end starting pitcher. There is no question that Zambrano is capable of being a front-end starting pitcher and would appeal to those teams. Though, I can’t imagine the Cubs would be interested in trading Zambrano to the Reds.
With that said, there are still significant hurdles in the way of Zambrano being traded. The biggest hurdle may be the fact that he is making $18 million in 2012. Zambrano’s production this season has not been enough to match that salary, so, the Cubs may have to be willing to absorb most of the remaing salary on Zambrano’s contract. Chairman Tom Ricketts is already said to be willing to absorb the money necessary to make Alfonso Soriano disappear, it doesn’t seem likely–in my opinion–that he would be willing to do so for another player. The other hurdle is that Zambrano still does have considerable value to the Cubs in 2012. Starting pitching is already one of the Cubs biggest areas of need heading into the off-season, by trading Zambrano, the need only becomes greater. Unless the Cubs are able to acquire a top pitching prospect in exchange for Zambrano, I find it hard to believe that he will be traded.
As for Chris Carpenter, he still has a bright future with the Cubs. In fact, he could very well be the Cubs’ closer of the future. I would imagine that 2012 is when we will see Carpenter blossom into the set-up role or even closer’s role in the Cubs’ bullpen.