With Clemens signed, Zambrano sweepstakes looms
Posted: Tuesday May 8, 2007 12:17AM; Updated: Tuesday May 8, 2007 10:00AM
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With Roger Clemens suddenly, dramatically and spectacularly off the board, perhaps Carlos Zambrano will be the most highly sought-after starting pitcher this summer.
Back in early April, Zambrano was close to signing a five-year extension with the Cubs for somewhere between $80-85 million. But then the Tribune Co. was sold to Chicago real estate magnate Sam Zell, throwing Zambrano's all-but-done deal into limbo. Word is now that while Cubs general manager Jim Hendry would still love to lock up Zambrano, the matter is out of Hendry's hands.
After thinking he'd commit to his beloved Cubbies until into his 30s, word is that Zambrano's mindset is now such that he is preparing himself for a rather lucrative free agency. And that is the wise course because it looks as if free agency looms as a very real possibility for him.
Yet, a trade also can't be ruled out at this point for perhaps baseball's most consistent starter (Zambrano has won between 13 and 16 games and has posted an ERA between 2.75 and 3.41 the past four seasons). And while it's certainly no certainty -- not with the Cubs winning eight of 10 to move into second place, and Zambrano and Lou Piniella supposedly getting along better now, too -- I still think there's more chance of Zambrano reaching the trade block than, say, C.C. Sabathia or Dontrelle Willis. Those two are both two years from free agency, plus Sabathia's Indians look to be a lock to be in it for the long haul.
Z's wake-up call
If a trade involving Zambrano -- known to friends as simply "Z'' -- does happen, it may not have anything to do with Zambrano and Piniella butting heads in mid April. Yet, it was no surprise that two of the more competitive, temperamental people in the game would have a rough moment or two.
The first one came early. After a tough 6-5 defeat to the Reds on April 13, Piniella snapped over a question regarding what wasn't working. "What the hell do you think isn't working? You see the damn game," Piniella said. "This guy's your ace. You have a 5-0 lead with the eighth and ninth hitters coming up. You feel pretty good about that, and all of a sudden it turns into a six-run inning. What do I do? I pitch him when it's his turn again. What else can I do?''
Not much was said about Zambrano's reaction at the time. But you can hardly blame Zambrano, who'd been used to Dusty Baker's soft selling, if he was thrown for a loop by those remarks. In any case, one person close to them insisted of Zambrano and Piniella: "They're fine.''
Actually, Zambrano has responded well to Piniella's outburst. He's found his game lately; he's 3-2 and hasn't lost one since Piniella's tirade.
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