The Chicago Cubs may be on the verge of being saved from having to pay the approximate $20 million remaining on Zambrano’s contract. After allowing 8 runs on 8 hits in 4.1 innings tonight against the Atlanta Braves, Zambrano was ejected after attempting to throw at Braves third baseman Chipper Jones. Tempers flared and the Braves bench emptied, but those fireworks were not nearly as big as the atomic bomb that Zambrano dropped after the game.
While there is no eye-witness footage of what happened within the Cubs clubhouse, multiple reports confirm that Zambrano has emptied his locker, and told the Cubs coaching staff that he is retiring. To simply put it, Zambrano has walked out on his team. The last time a Cubs player walked out on his team was during the final game of the 2004 season when Sammy Sosa gave up on the Cubs and left the game early. As we all know, that was the final straw for the Cubs front office and Sosa was traded that Winter. Zambrano now appears to be on a similar track.
This is not the first time that Zambrano has teased retirement. If the temperamental starting pitcher stays true to his word, then Zambrano could very well be retiring. In most cases, Zambrano has been adamant that he will be retiring after his current contract expires which is after the 2012 season. But Zambrano also told reporters last season, that he would retire prior to the 2012 season if he did not win 10+ games this season. Entering his start today, Zambrano had a record of 9-7 but an inflated ERA of 4.82 to go along with it.
Cubs manager Mike Quade, for now at least, seems to believe Zambrano’s threat to retire.
"“He didn’t have it tonight,” manager Mike Quade said. “I’m really disappointed. His locker is empty. I don’t know where he’s at.He walked out on 24 guys that are battling their (butts) off for him. I don’t know where he’s gone or what he’s doing. I heard he’s retired, or talking about retiring.“I can’t have a guy walking out on 24 guys, that’s for damn sure.” Chicago Tribune"
Say what you will about how Quade has handled different situations in the past, but in this case, the Cubs manager is right. While Quade may not have control of the clubhouse, the way Zambrano has conducted himself tonight is unacceptable. Much like it was for Sammy Sosa in 2004, it would seem that this is going to be the incident that ends Zambrano’s time with the Cubs. Whether it is Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune, Matt Spiegel of 670 The Score, or Sahadev Sharma of ESPN Chicago there seems to be a belief that Zambrano will not be putting on a Cubs’ uniform again.
Even if Zambrano tries to back-track on his retirement threat, the belief going around the press room and other Cubs media outlets is that the Cubs front office is ready to part ways with the controversial pitcher. The interesting thing to watch will be the power play that takes place between Zambrano and the Cubs front office in the next couple of days. In the chance that Zambrano comes back and says he has no intention of retiring, the Cubs may give him the Milton Bradley treatment and send him home for the rest of the season. Of course, no matter how this situation plays out, the MLB Players Association is going to get involved in some fashion. First, they will try to convince Zambrano to not walk away and leave all the money owed to him on the table, and if Zambrano caves and then is consequently suspended, the MLBPA will certainly make sure there is proper cause for the Cubs to do so. Either way, the Cubs are going to call Zambrano’s bluff. As Paul Sullivan offers a quote from general manager Jim Hendry who says “we will respect his wishes and honor them and move forward.”
The Cubs have taken off the kid gloves with Zambrano and are ready to go face to face with the player that has given them the most headaches in recent years. One thing is certain, Zambrano’s time with the Cubs is on life support if it is not dead already.