Carlos Zambrano has apparently recovered from being drilled with a line drive in the Venezuelan League and should take the mound soon. In some recent comments, he claimed to be working out this off season with the intent of returning to Chicago for the remaining two years on his deal.
That’s right – two years. That comment indicates that Big Z is planning on having the best year of his life in 2012.
While only the 2012 season is guaranteed, Zambrano could in fact be around for two more seasons. In his contract there is a vesting option for 2013 that becomes guaranteed if Zambrano is healthy at the end of the 2012 season and finishes no lower than fourth in Cy Young voting. So far, he has never finished higher than fifth.
Zambrano also comments that his training regime includes mountain climbing and running on the beach. Reports out of Venezuela earlier this winter indicated that his velocity was up and that he was in good shape, so maybe his training is paying off.
While rumors of a possible trade continue to swirl, odds are good that Zambrano will report to spring training with the Cubs. Even if the Cubs are committed to trading him, they will get a better return when more scouts and general managers can see him throw in person in Arizona. If he is in great shape, is throwing as hard as he once did, and does seem like a reasonable risk to not go off the deep end, the Cubs could stand to get a pretty decent return for him.
Of course, if he in shape, pitching well, and mostly sane the Cubs may prefer to keep him. A rotation that features a healthy Zambrano, Matt Garza, and possibly Yu Darvish could put the Cubs in contention for the NL Central no matter who is playing first. If Zambrano really is going to have a Cy Young caliber year, maybe he should have it as a Cub.
Naturally, I am extremely skeptical that Zambrano will be with the team in 2013. Given how he pitched last season, I would be very surprised if he cracked the upper reaches on the ballot for baseball’s top pitching honor. The NL is just too deep in premium pitching. If he can pitch well enough in the spring for the Cubs to flip him for two quality prospects who are nearly ready for the majors, I’ll be content.