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Trading Big Z
Nate Springfield | Saturday June 26th, 2010
Has Big Z thrown his last pitch for the Cubs? (AP)
Has Big Z thrown his last pitch for the Cubs? (AP)
Insane Carlos Zambrano
Has Big Z thrown his last pitch for the Cubs? (AP)
After the first inning of Chicago's Cross Town Classic game between the Cubs and White Sox on Friday afternoon, Carlos Zambrano erupted upon entering the dug out.  He was calling out his defense, most notably Derrek Lee , about their lack of effort and/or ability to make plays on some hard hit balls in the first inning.  Derrek took exception to the comments and a yelling match ensued between the two, which ended with Big Z being told to hit the showers after only 1 inning pitched.  After the game, GM Jim Hendry announced to the media that Carlos would be suspended indefinitely and that the team would play with 24 before allowing that kind of behavior.

This isn't the first time a dugout altercation happened between Zambrano and a Cub's team mate.  On June 1st of 2007 Michael Barrett was on the receiving end of Zambrano's temper.  The disagreement started over a mix up of signs that lead to a pass ball that blew open an inning.  That argument started on the mound, continued after the inning in the dugout and then supposedly became physical when the two hit the club house. 

Zambrano's fired up attitude and highly emotional antics were acceptable when he was performing well.  Usually they were directed inwardly to fire himself up - which most Cub fan's more than accepted, even defended at times.  In the past two seasons though, that has not been the case and he has appeared to look more and more like a toddler that is not getting what he wants when he wants it during his emotional explosions.

In the past two seasons Z has been extremely streaky and in the past 3 seasons seen a decline in his strike out rate and an increase in his walk rate.  He won a career low - since becoming a full time starter - of 9 games last season and also pitched the least amount of innings at 169.1.  This year he probably will see even less than that with his stint in the bullpen and now indefinite suspension.  What does this all lead up to for the most senior member of the Cub's roster?

More than likely Z has thrown his final pitch as a Chicago Cub.  Even though Derrek Lee won't be around for the long haul in Chicago either, my opinion is based more on how Manager Lou Piniella and GM Jim Hendry reacted in their post-game interviews.  The biggest hurdle for moving Zambrano is the length and money remaining on his current contract.  He is roughly owed $44.8 million through the 2012 season with a vesting player option for another 19.25 for the 2013 season.  Jim Hendry has dumped high salary players before that have worn out their welcome in Chicago and most of the returns have ended up working out well for the Cubs.

In 2002 Hendry successfully flipped Todd Hundley (2 years, $12 million owed) to the Dodgers for 2 key players of the 2003 NL Central Championship team, Mark Grudzielanek and Eric Karros .  In 2005 he sent a washed up Sammy Sosa (2 years, $22.5 million owed) and cash to the Orioles for Jerry Hairston Jr. , Mike Fontenot and Dave Crouthers. Then of course last offseason he was able to ship Milton Bradley (2 years, $21 million owed) for a now renewed Carlos Silva and cash.  These are examples of why there is hope that Hendry can work some magic again to remove another player who has seemed to wear out his welcome in Chicago.

So what are some possibilities of trading partners to take on Big Z and his contract?  I have a few ideas that would ship Carlos out of town and give the Cubs somewhat a chance to get some value in return. 

One option could see Carlos heading to Baltimore for Brian Roberts (owed $35 million through 2013).  Roberts health is a huge question mark, but Jim Hendry likes Roberts and has made bids to acquire him before.  Add into the equation that Hendry and former Cubs CEO/President over Hendry, now Orioles' GM Andy McPhail have a very good personal and professional relationship, and McPhail seems to have a loyalty to players that he brought into the majors, and Big Z is one of them.  The second option is the Braves sending their mistake signing of the older Derek Lowe (owed $37.5 million through 2012) to Chicago.  The only way this deal would happen is if Atlanta sees that much more upside in Zambrano, but this deal is more unlikely than the Roberts deal.

Finally, the deal that I see most probable and has a real chance of happening would be sending Zambrano to the New York Mets.  Mets' GM Omar Minaya has been on record saying he is impressed with what Carlos is capable of, the Mets are known buyers for pitching and Zambrano would be more than a 2 month rental, which is what they would get with other pitchers acquired in a trade.  A packaged deal of sending Zambrano, Ryan Theriot and $3-5 million in cash to the Mets for Oliver Perez (owed $18 million through 2011) and Luis Castillo (owed $9 million through 2011) would accomplish goals for both teams and be enough both ways to get a deal done.  The Cubs are really on the losing end talent wise, but the money and years difference would make the trade worth while.

Whatever the deal is that gets Big Z out of Chicago, look for it to happen soon.  Jim Hendry won't sit on his hands long on this situation and expect for him to get something done by the All-Star Break at the very latest.

Nate SpringfieldNate Springfield joined the Baseball Press crew for the 2010 season and hosts the site's podcast. His love for the game has grown thanks to fantasy baseball, with a specialty in NL-only auction leagues. You can contact him at nate@baseballpress.com or follow him on Twitter @NateSpringfield.