Could Carlos Zambrano Return?


The news of Monday was that President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein met face to face with starting pitcher Carlos Zambrano. Zambrano has had no relation with the Cubs’ organization, since he erupted in August against the Atlanta Braves and was consequently suspended. The belief under former general manager Jim Hendry’s watch was that Zambrano’s days pitching as a Chicago Cubs had concluded. That sentiment was shared by team chairman Tom Ricketts, who admitted having a hard time envisioning Zambrano being on the roster for the 2012 season. But nonetheless, the decision to trade or retain Zambrano was laid solely on the shoulders of the new Cubs’ general manager. In this case, the new Cubs’ President of Baseball Operations.

With Theo Epstein, and Jed Hoyer in place as President of Baseball Operations and General Manager respectively, it is their decision on whether they think Zambrano can be rehabilitated. After watching Zambrano from a far, the two executives now have the opportunity to develop a relationship with the controversial starting pitcher. Based on their observations in speaking with Zambrano, the decision will be made on whether or not the pitcher is an asset to the team in 2012.

Since taking his new position with the Cubs’ front office, Epstein has told reporters that he would like to speak with Zambrano directly before making any decisions on the pitcher’s future. Epstein had that opportunity on Monday, speaking with Zambrano and his agent Barry Praver during lunch in Chicago.

"“It went well,” Epstein said. “[Zambrano] expressed a strong desire to be a Cub and an even stronger desire to have a really good 2012 season."

Blah, blah, blah this is no different than what we have heard before from Zambrano. This is why Zambrano’s act has grown old, and reached a point of no return. How many times are the Cubs going to allow Zambrano to run the team? By conducting himself in the same unprofessional manner time after time and not facing any sincere objections by the Cubs’ front office, Zambrano feels that he can do anything without facing any severe consequences. Once the smoke has cleared, Zambrano is able to make a half-ass apology and return to the team like nothing has happened. Considering the intelligence of Epstein and Hoyer, the pair should be given the benefit of the doubt in their making of the decision to either trade Zambrano or rehabilitate his image while remaining with the Cubs.

Despite all the reports to the contrary, Epstein has not closed the book on Zambrano’s time with the Cubs:

"“I told him we’d give him the right to earn his way back to being a Cub,” Epstein said. “Nothing would be given to him but he could earn his way back from very hard work this winter, through rebuilding relationships man to man with all of his teammates, and through some other steps that we discussed.“We’re not welcoming him back unconditionally at all but we’re going to give him the right to earn his way back to being a Cub.”"

This where many reporters seem to have missed the class “Posturing 101.” What benefit would it serve Epstein to tell reporters–other teams included–that Zambrano is not going to be with the Cubs next season? Epstein is already at an disadvantage, considering Zambrano is owed $18 million for the 2012 season, and that price has not met Zambrano’s production over the course of the past two seasons. Epstein would put himself in position where he would be forced to take on the majority of the remaining salary on Zambrano’s contract, or receive an equally bad player who has an equally bad contract.  By saying that Zambrano is “earning his way” back on the team, that shows teams that Epstein may not be inclined to trade the starting pitcher. With the free agent starting pitcher market behind C.J. Wilson not looking too appealing, there may be an increased interest in Zambrano this winter.

Why exactly do the Cubs have to trade Zambrano? In no means am I a Zambrano supporter nor do I think he should return next season, I also do not think it is a necessity for the Cubs to trade Zambrano. The reasons to trading Zambrano would be getting rid of “cancer” in the clubhouse while foolishly eating an unnecessary amount of money. The Cubs already have a need for starting pitching this winter. There will not be a Matt Garza trade available to them this winter, and Wilson likely is not headed to Chicago to turn the Cubs’ pitching staff around. Meaning all the other available options to the Cubs are not necessarily better options than Zambrano. Who’s to say that Zambrano can not regain his top form under the Epstein/Hoyer regime, especially if Texas Rangers’ pitching coach Mike Maddux is named as the next Cubs’ manager. Carlos Zambrano does not have to be traded this winter, and it may not be a bad thing if the Zambrano is with the team to open the 2012 season.