Time running out for Cubs to get Zambrano signed
Posted: Monday March 26, 2007 12:14PM; Updated: Monday March 26, 2007 3:05PM
MESA, Ariz. -- The guy standing near the dugout at Ho Ho Kam Park last week was a Yankees fan. By definition, that meant he had something to say. And he was damn well going to get it said.
"Hey, Carlos," the young Bronx Babbler yelled as the Cubs' man-mountain of an ace, Carlos Zambrano, strode off the field after another Spring Training workout. "See you next year with the Yankees."
Zambrano stopped dead in his spikes on the top step of the dugout. He cocked his head, ever so slightly. He pointed at Yankee Fan, just to let him know the comment was heard. He smiled. And then he loped down into the darkness of the dugout and up into the Cubs' clubhouse without a word.
This is it for Zambrano and the Cubs. This is the week. This is where all the talk has led us. Either he and his agents and the Cubs come to some kind of an agreement on a contract extension before Opening Day -- next Monday afternoon in Cincinnati -- or Zambrano calls off all the contractual shop talk as he's said he will, pitches the 2007 season with the not-insignificant contract he already has and, next winter, instantly becomes the most drooled-over pitcher on the free-agent market since Barry Zito.
If he signs this week, Zambrano probably won't get Zito-type money, at least not in total dollars. (His annual average salary could come close, though. More on that a little later.) But barring a signing this week, or a debilitating injury sometime this season, Zambrano would almost certainly land a deal next winter from some overheated team that would make Zito's seven-year, $126 million contract with the Giants -- the richest ever for a pitcher -- look like something you'd pick out of the greeting card aisle at a SuperTarget.
Gentlemen, start your rhetoric.
To be fair, the two sides in this high-stakes negotiation have been talking for weeks now, managing admirably to keep a lid on any public posturing. The reason for that is refreshingly simple in this often complicated contract pas de deux: Zambrano wants to stay in Chicago. And the Cubs want him to stay. It makes sense for both sides -- almost too much sense in a game where fiscal sanity struck out a long time ago.
But will it happen? Will the Cubs swallow hard and pay a pitcher the kind of dough Zambrano commands? Will Zambrano forsake a chance at possibly millions more on next winter's free agent market for the security and relatively hassle-free chance to make millions now? (Or, of course, possibly risk millions by not signing and getting injured.)
Nobody knows at this point, but there is a recent trend in baseball toward locking up young talent before it hits the dollar-dopey free-agent market. A couple very cogent examples:
The Astros gave their ace, Roy Oswalt, a five-year contract extension last August worth $73 million. It already looks like a bargain.
The Cardinals slapped down $63.5 million for five seasons' worth of a contract extension for their stud starter, Chris Carpenter. A veritable blue-light special, that one.
The Cubs, too, have been all-too happy to try to keep their players happy recently. A few examples:
Among the nearly $300 million that Cubs general manager Jim Hendry shelled out this winter for players was $75 million (over five years) to lock up third baseman Aramis Ramirez before he had a chance to wade into the free-agent market.
Last April, Hendry signed first baseman Derrek Lee to a five-year, $65 million extension.
Hendry also talked pitcher Kerry Wood into a one-year contract over the winter during the period that the Cubs had exclusive negotiating rights to him, and the year before that the GM signed closer Ryan Dempster to a three-year extension.
1 of 2