New Chicago Cubs’ President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein has said that he’d like to meet with pitcher Carlos Zambrano before deciding whether the righty can return to the team in 2012, the final year of his current contract. Rumor had it, that meeting was going to take place this week.
But, even if Epstein decides he might want to keep Zambrano, he might find a market developing anyway.
Enter, for example, the Kansas City Royals.
Yesterday, our friend Mark Carman at 610 Sports Radio in Kansas City spoke with Royals GM Dayton Moore who indicated that he would consider taking on Zambrano if the deal made sense for his club. “We would have to be interested. We would have to explore it because that’s what you should do. You should explore every opportunity. Carlos Zambrano is a heckuva competitor,” said Moore. “Carlos Zambrano has had a lot of success in the major leagues. Carlos Zambrano is actually a very pleasant, easy going, classy person off the field. Sometimes, as with all of us the competitiveness takes over and brings out qualities in us that we are not proud of. Obviously the Cubs grew tired of some of his outbursts but I believe in our coaching staff and we’ll always take a chance and a risk on certain players. We’ll see how that particular situation unfolds,” he said.
Moore then went on point out the problem with the remainder of Zambrano’s contract. “He has a no trade clause for 29 other teams so he is going to have to be comfortable wherever he goes and there is a lot of money attached to his deal. There is a vesting option that is a part of that worth $18 or 19 million going forward. We certainly wouldn’t want to put ourselves in a position where we have to honor a contract of that nature.”
The Royals, you’ll note, just picked up a cast-off starting pitcher in Jonathan Sanchez from the Giants yesterday, but with half of their rotation up in the air for 2012, and a young core of offensive talent theoretically ready to go, they do make some sense as a landing spot for Zambrano.
But would Zambrano want to go there? As Moore notes, Zambrano controls his own destiny on a trade, and, although he’s previously said he’d waive his no-trade clause if the Cubs asked him to, that was two months ago. And, to be frank, I doubt Zambrano was thinking of Kansas City when he made that statement.
Still, the important point here is that, because of the weak starting pitching market this Winter, there will be options for the Cubs if they’d like to deal Zambrano. The question, of course, is how much of the $18 million he’s owed they’d be willing to eat in order to accomplish the move. Given that Zambrano walked out on the team in August, and given that Owner/Chairman Tom Ricketts said on national TV that he had a hard time seeing Zambrano pitching for the Cubs in 2012, I would imagine the Cubs will be willing to eat a great deal of that salary, particularly if they can net a prospect along the way.
A word on the vesting option mentioned at the end of the above quote. You’ve probably noticed that I rarely, if ever, make mention of that option. You’ve also probably noticed that, when other folks do mention the option, they mention the price of the option, but make no mention of how it vests. The reason I don’t speak much of that 2013 option is because it vests only if (1) Zambrano finishes in the top four in Cy Young voting in 2012, and (2) Zambrano is healthy at the end of 2012. First of all, Zambrano finishing in the top four in Cy Young voting next year is, in a word, unlikely. Second, if Zambrano somehow magically puts together a Cy Young caliber season in 2012, the team for whom he’s pitching won’t be absolutely crushed that he then has a $19 million player option for 2013. Sure, they might not prefer it, but who wouldn’t want another year of a Cy Young caliber pitcher? Thus, however things play out, it doesn’t seem like the vesting option should be a matter of grave concern when it comes to trading Zambrano.
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