SATURDAY AFTERNOON UPDATE: The Cubs have placed Carlos Zambrano on the disqualified list. According to reports out of Atlanta, Zambrano will be away from the team, without pay, for at least 30 days. The players association is expected to file a grievance challenging the move. "It's not tolerated," GM Jim Hendry told reporters about Zambrano leaving the team Friday night and hinting at retirement. "It's not right for the other 24 (players). It's totally uncalled for."
I don’t know if Carlos Zambrano is retiring from baseball and neither does anybody else at this point. But I wouldn’t be going too far out on a limb to say Zambrano has pitched his last game for the Cubs. Zambrano’s turn in the rotation comes up next Wednesday at Houston, and I look for Casey Coleman to start that game.
Coleman pitched Friday night for Class AAA Iowa and got the win in a 9-3 victory at Tacoma. Casey worked 5 shutout innings, giving up 5 hits while walking one and striking out five.
Cubs general manager Jim Hendry was with the Class AA Tennessee team when I caught up with him by phone late Friday night. Hendry told me essentially what he told the reporters in Atlanta: that the Cubs were ready to move on without Zambrano. Judging by the tone of Jim’s voice – more disappointment frustration rather than anger – I’ve got to believe him.
I tried to contact Zambrano’s agent, Barry Praver, but so far, I haven’t heard back. Even though Zambrano has talked retirement in the past, I didn’t see this coming. Just over a week ago, he hosted a bunch of kids at Wrigley Field for his Big Z Foundation. He posed for individual pictures and seemed to be having a great time. There was a booth set up in the concourse where fans could buy a t-shirt to help his foundation, and some of his teammates were wearing them.
Zambrano seemed over the hump following last year’s dugout blowup at Sox Park and the subsequent treatment he received for anger management. He finished last year with a flourish and seemed to accept not getting the opening-day start this season.
Zambrano even received some public backing for his “we stinks” comment in St. Louis earlier this year even if he was out of line for criticizing closer Carlos Marmol for blowing a save.
Friday’s ejection for throwing at the Braves’ Chipper Jones was just the latest in a long line of incidents that includes the fight with Michael Barrett; a meltdown in Los Angeles in which he heaved a Gatorade cooler in the Dodger Stadium dugout; throwing a ball into left field after being ejected in a game at Wrigley Field; the dugout meltdown last year at Sox Park; the “we stinks” comment and finally Friday’s “retirement.”
I’m sure the players association will get involved with this at some point if Zambrano tries to take back his “retirement” and the Cubs still don’t want to pay him. Zambrano has the rest of this year’s money plus $18 million coming for next year. That’s part of the five-year, $91.5 million contract extension Zambrano signed with the Cubs back in 2007, a few weeks after the Barrett incident. At that time, it seemed the Cubs did well in that Zambrano may have received much more on the open market after the ’07 season.
It hasn’t been totally downhill from there, but it wasn’t what the Cubs were expecting. Zambrano pitched well enough in Game 1 of the ’07 NLDS in Arizona, only to be pulled early by then-manager Lou Piniella. It wasn’t great in 2008, but Zambrano did have that no-hitter up in Milwaukee against the Astros in the neutral-site game.
Along the way, there have been various injuries and ailments, such as a forearm strain, allegedly from too much computer use. Zambrano has had issues with dehydration and injuries that forced him to admit he didn’t maintain his physical conditioning.
If Zambrano and the Cubs are done, he leaves with a record of 125-81 (.607) and a 3.60 ERA. The WHIP is 1.32. His 1,542 strikeouts place him second on the team’s all-time list behind Fergie Jenkins.
Zambrano even seemed to be making the transition from a pure power pitcher to a guy who could finesse it when he needed to do so. He even cited Greg Maddux now and then as an inspiration.
I suspect Zambrano’s teammates are weary of the whole thing and are ready to move on. His act wore on them, too, and some privately wondered whether winning was always his top priority.
When Hendry suspended Milton Bradley for the rest of the season two years ago, players were said to have broken out in applause. The most stunning thing about that episode to me was that players did not circle the wagons to protect “one of their own” when the media went to talk about Bradley. Instead, it was like being in the bakery on Sunday morning, with players practically taking numbers to vent about Bradley.
I don’t think it’s that extreme in this case.
"There are a lot of things that happen in people's lives that we don't know about," center fielder Marlon Byrd told reporters in Atlanta Friday night. "There could be some things happening at home. … Hopefully the rumors about him retiring aren't true and he can come back (Saturday) and we can talk about it."
I don’t see that happening; Hendry may tell Zambrano or his agent that Zambrano should stay away from the clubhouse for the rest of this trip. The Cubs could attempt to work out a trade for Zambrano if he intends to keep playing. You might argue that Zambrano’s trade value is at an all-time low, but know that Hendry fielded no calls about Zambrano from contenders in advance of the July 31 nonwaiver deadline.
Let’s see how it plays out over the next few days. But I do think Zambrano’s days with the Cubs are done.