Bernstein: Ready For Zambrano, Again?

By Dan Bernstein- Senior Columnist

(CBS) I’m done with Carlos Zambrano. The Cubs, however, may not be.

Theo Epstein may actually be bringing the one-man Baseball Idiot Circus back for another Chicago tour, prepared to watch the combustible Venezuelan play every part: red-nosed clown, tightrope-walker, roaring lion, and rogue elephant needing multiple tranquilizer darts.

Truth is, he’s a Cub until he’s not a Cub, no matter how obvious it was that the previous regime had reached a point of no return. He’s owed $18 million for the upcoming season, the new brains in charge don’t care what Jim Hendry thought, and Tom Ricketts says he won’t be involved.

“If you have Zambrano and Garza and Dempster, and fill in with the other two guys, and have a bullpen like we do, you have a chance of winning,” manager Dale Sveum told reporters.

Notice the first pitcher he mentioned, unprompted.

It’s possible that this latest campaign is simple salesmanship. Tell the world how valuable Carlos Zambrano is to the Cubs, just to keep some other team interested enough in acquiring him, even if you have to pay the freight to make him go away. If you can get him to waive his full no-trade rights, that is.

But there are other plausible, reasonable scenarios, especially when considering what’s at stake – or not — in the near-term.

Best case: he snaps back to form, stays in shape, keeps his cool, pitches 200 innings and helps a team in transition stay competitive and relevant in a weak division. The only downside to his success could be the fine print in his deal vesting him for 2013 at $19.25 million if he’s in the top four in Cy Young voting and healthy at season’s end.

Worst case: he’s the same fat, selfish boor as always. His stuff continues to decline, and his behavior undermines the authority of the new manager and pitching coach from the outset. He’s untradeable, and again suspended/disqualified/exiled/deported/imprisoned/sent to sea on a barge/launched into space.

Other case: he’s just stable and successful enough to increase his value at or before the trading deadline. He eats as many innings as he does cheeseburgers, remains healthy, and eventually agrees to join a contender mid-season.

Regardless, Zambrano will not be a part of a Cubs team with real expectations, so there’s no measurable negative risk, other than distractions and bad press. It’s not like he’d be derailing a surefire contender.

The only player in the clubhouse who will be part of the World Series winner is Starlin Castro. So if you think Zambrano’s bad examples in any way complicate Castro’s development, or negatively affect his relationship with Sveum and the coaching staff, that’s a consideration.

Already, even, what’s coming from Zambrano is troubling. This from the Trib: “’All the things he wanted to see gone are now gone,’ said one friend, referring to former general manager Jim Hendry and pitching coach Mark Riggins. ‘He likes Theo and is looking forward to proving himself next year.’”

So in Zambrano’s mind, his return is his decision? Conditions have to be right for him to grace the Cubs with his presence? Seriously? And one of the deal-breakers was the presence of Hendry, the man who handpicked this kid, doted over his development, awarded him the wealth of a small nation, and treated him like a son?


No-trade clauses are powerful things. Zambrano knows what he controls, and how much money he has.

It’s easy to paint the Cubs’ decision as some kind of wild-west showdown between Zambrano and Epstein — the past versus future, player against management, emotional machismo versus intellectual calculation.

But it’s really not. It’s symbolic, more than anything else, and that’s what’s so stunning about such an expensive pitcher who once had so much ability and promise.

For all his noise and bluster, on-field antics and polarizing presence, he’s just not very important.

bernstein 90x130 Bernstein: Ready For Zambrano, Again?

Dan Bernstein

Dan Bernstein has been the co-host of “Boers and Bernstein” since 1999. He joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995. The Boers and Bernstein Show airs every weekday from 1PM to 6PM on The Score, 670AM. Read more of Bernstein’s columns here. Follow him on Twitter @dan_bernstein.
Listen to The Boers and Bernstein Show podcasts >>

More from Dan Bernstein
  • Tone Def

    Dan, it’s not polite to point.

  • MattintheCrown

    I’m ready for you to stop talking about baseball incessantly.

  • Meatless Meatball

    Actually, I really don’t see why anyone would get at all worked up about Zambrano coming back. In fact, I’d say you’re probably a baseball idiot if you *didn’t* think he was coming back. We’re not dealing with someone who’s actually a bad person; this isn’t Milton Bradley. Zambrano is a child more than he is mean-spirited. And if this simultaneously makes players think Theo is a player’s executive AND increases the chances Zambrano can be traded, well, it seems well worth it to me. I’d rather get next-to-nothing for him than nothing at all.

    • Harry's Phlegm

      I second everything you said Meatless. I don’t think he’s as bad a dude as everyone says he is. Just a pain in the arse. Squeeze what you can out of him.

    • Chris in Scottsdale

      Exactly. The money is already spent, so rather than an entirely sunk cost, they may as well obtain what they can from him in terms of production. 2012 is a transition year as it is.

      • Larry Horse's Arse

        All GMs and managers have the ego that tells them that they can be the one to turn the guy around.

        Sunk cost.

  • EK

    Come on guys. I have to hear about baseball for seven, eight months out of the year. It’s December … I’d rather talk about ANYTHING OTHER THAN BASEBALL.

    Here are a number of Chicago sports-related story lines for you to chew on instead:

    – NY Times series on Derek Boogaard and hockey enforcers in general
    – In the past five years, mountains of evidence has been piling up that show sports can quite harmful over the long-term to anyone who participates, even at the youth level (new study specifically mentioning heading a soccer ball). How can we reconcile this as sports fans, what responsibility do we have when it comes to supporting competitive/physical athletic contests?
    – The Bulls are apparently very interested in a new point guard in an effort to continue Derek Rose’s development as a super 2 guard. Of the players that have been mentioned recently, who would be the best fit for this role, especially in light of D-Rose’s continuing maturity?

    Please, leave the baseball for warming months.

    • Bud

      The Winter Meeting Exception applies. See you at my Rule 5 Draft Party!

  • tom Sharp

    Bbaseball sucks in this town. Anyone that thinks Garza, Dempster and Zembrano give you the foundation of a good pitching staff and/or a shot at the pennant is an idiot!

  • Larry Horse's Arse Horse's Arse

    I couldn’t stomach reading more than a couple paragraphs. Dude…

    Anyway, Z is as good as gone. Wasting breath or key strokes on him having a relationship with the Cubs is silly.

  • Rex

    Meh. I wish MLB would have a lockout for a decade.

  • mike in davenport

    Really, guys? I’m more excited about the Cubs now than I was for either playoff appearance in 07 or 08. I never believed either team would win it all, and the future looked bleak for a team that went all-in on the spending spree instead of rebuilding from the ground up.

    As for Zambrano, I don’t want him back. I am perfectly OK with watching bad, inexpensive talent for the next few years, because I know the ship is finally headed in the right direction. Pay Zambrano to leave. Or, wait until he has his annual scheduled outburst and make an example out of him.

  • Mike

    I think the best thing would be to find a taker for Zambrano and get rid of him.

    The next best thing is to have him pitch some decent innings next year while not imploding, followed by a mid-season trade to a contender if the Cubs are out of it.

    Either way they plan on playing it, think the new management is handling the situation perfectly so far.

    If they trash big Z and say he’s a loser and there’s no way he’s playing for the Cubs in 2012, they reduce the potential market to nothing. Even worse in this scenario, if they can’t find another team willing to take the risk, they either have to pony up the $18M for nothing or pay the money, backtrack on what they said earlier and also take the risk of letting him in the clubhouse all year.

    The bottom line is that, the combination of new management and the vesting provisions in Z’s contract mean there could be a decent chance Z gets his act together enough to have a productive season and/or behave long enough for him to get traded. We should know a lot more after winter ball is over.

    Even if he continues being an ass for 2012, I’m sure there are teams out there that would sign a free agent Z for a bargain contract or one with lots of incentives. However, there is no way he gets $19M+ next year unless he can get his contract to vest by playing up to his previous potential.

  • Bill Figel

    Big Arm, Big talent. Big Headache. Big Chance.

    I’d take it.

  • Bronzo

    That sound you hear is the sound of Sox fans laughing…


    He was going to be a Cub. Unless he retired, and there is 37.5 million reasons why he wasn’t going to retire.

    Bad is bad.
    I remind you, once again, that the NHL is pretty exciting this year.

  • el yaqui

    To quote Bruce Weber: “Who cares?”

  • Bump Wills Bump

    I enjoy the entertainment factor of it all. Since I do not believe the Cubs are ready to win anything, we can still watch the Zambrono building implode every now and then. Dan just like to feel all rightous every so often. It’s like the steroid days. How many fans knew what was going on? We were entertained by it all. It is just a big circus.

    That’s entertainment.

  • Satan

    This is totally off topic, but did anybody else hear scoreboard update of today’s show (i wanna say it was around 3:30) that described the Bears’ pending defensive effort this Sunday as an attempt to “clip Tebow’s magic wings” or something? Am I the only one who really wants to hear “Big Voice Guy” say that phrase now? There’s gotta be a promo for tomorrow’s show that has him reference that…

    “The BEARS are just two days away from a crucial showdown against the Denver Broncos. Do Brian Urlacher and company have what it takes to clip Tebow’s magic WEEEGS?! We’re talkin about it all day right here on The Score!”

  • Denver Deadite

    Somebody’s dropping the ball on the podcasts again.

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