Each day that goes by without the Chicago Cubs unloading pitcher Carlos Zambrano on another team increases the chances that something that seemed almost impossible just two months ago could actually happen.
Zambrano might be in the Cubs’ rotation in 2012.
The Winter Meetings have come and gone, and the Cubs weren’t exactly fending off suitors with a broom. Indeed, the offers aren’t rolling in on the talented but temperamental – and declining – former ace. Owed $18 million in 2012, and coming off a crappy season that saw him quit on his team in August, it’s not as if any of us expected a parade of teams looking to add an expensive headache.
But it’s been incredibly quiet. Outside of an occasional bout Ozzie Guillen mouth diarrhea, there hasn’t been so much as a whisper attaching Zambrano to a trade. It could be the tight ship run by Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, or the lack of established sources within the new administration, but it certainly appears that teams simply don’t want Zambrano – whatever the cost.
If so, Cubs fans may have to hope – as we have so many times before – that this time, Zambrano has really changed. I’m not particularly interested in doing that hoping myself, but the inability to trade Zambrano, and the desperate need to fill out a rotation after Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster, might leave me no other choice.
For his part, Zambrano, who is pitching in the Venezuelan Winter League to rebuild both his arm strength and his image, is talking the talk about a successful return in 2012. It starts, he says, with his conditioning.
“I’m preparing like when I was a rookie,” Zambrano said of his offseason. “Climbing mountains, running on the beach, and exercising hard so that I can arrive at Spring Training in optimal shape.”
Zambrano in good shape is a start, because, as a man of his build entering his 30s, things can rocket downhill if he’s not dedicated in the offseason. Zambrano says he’s looking forward to his future in Chicago.
“I want to stay in Chicago for [the] two seasons I still have with the team,” Zambrano said. “I’m not a coward who would take the back door out of the Majors.”
Zambrano is, of course, referring to his contract year in 2012, and a vesting option in 2013, which kicks in only if he’s healthy and finishes in the top four in 2012 Cy Young voting. I’ll go out on a limb and suggest that, even if no trade is to be had, and we are forced to hope Zambrano has changed and can hold it together for 2012, it will be the last year we are forced to do so.
Zambrano could return to the mound in Venezuela today, after missing three weeks with a facial laceration (line drive to the face).