The Chicago Cubs and Carlos Zambrano saga has been re-ignited. Nearly a month after Zambrano turned his back on the Cubs and walked away while threatening retirement, the Cubs have taken the first step of ridding themselves of Carlos Zambrano. Until now, Zambrano has been on the disqualified list because of his actions last month, while the Cubs, MLB, and The MLB Player’s Association continue the grievance process. The grievance process will likely extend out into the off-season before is it is finally concluded, but regardless of the outcome, Zambrano has pitched his last pitch as a member of the Chicago Cubs.
The Cubs sent out a press release this morning announcing that beginning on September 11–when Zambrano’s time on the disqualified list expires–the controversial pitcher will be suspended with pay for the remainder of the season. Meaning the Cubs will pay Zambrano $1.7 million this month to stay at home. But lets not forget about the grievance process. That decision will determine whether or not the Cubs will be on the hook for the $18 million that is owed to Zambrano next season. The Cubs are arguing that Zambrano announced his intention to retire, and the Cubs accepted his request simultaneously. Whereas, the MLBPA is arguing that Zambrano acted out of frustration and has yet to file any official retirement papers. The latter of which will probably prevail in the grievance hearing.
The Cubs have been down this path before. Milton Bradley in 2009 to be exact. To take a quote from WWE superstar CM Punk, Bradley would drop a verbal “pipe-bomb” every time he addressed the media that season. Those comments finally got out of hand when Bradley criticized the organization and it’s history, so, then-general manager Jim Hendry responded by suspending Bradley for the final month of the season. As we all know, Bradley was traded that winter.
Zambrano faces a similar fate. Team chairman Tom Ricketts has already admitted that he has hard time imagining that Zambrano will pitch for the Cubs again. While Ricketts does have final authority on all baseball decisions, it will not be Ricketts that is trying to sell Zambrano to another team. It will be the new general manager that is hired by the Cubs chairman. You almost have to feel bad for the Cubs next general manager, as he will immediately be faced with the task of dumping Zambrano. I can imagine the conversation between Ricketts and the new general manager going something like this, “Hey, before you do anything else, can you do us all a favor and the trade the pain in the ass that is owed $18 million next season, thanks.”
While it is going to be difficult to receive considerable value for Zambrano, it will not be difficult trading the pitcher. As long as the Cubs are willing to take on majority of Zambrano’s salary next season. The free agent starting pitching market is weak, which in turn, may force pitching-needy teams to trade for a starting pitcher rather than sign a mediocre free agent. As far as Zambrano’s controversial past, the new general manager may have to convince a team that all that is needed is a change of scenery. Some team will eventually bite, and then that will be how a Zambrano trade is constructed.