By Matt Spiegel-
(CBS) The end for Carlos Zambrano’s Chicago Cubs life finally came last night.
After innumerable other moments in recent years when you’d think, and perhaps you openly hoped, an exit for the most confounding ballplayer in town was forthcoming, it finally goes down like this. The team that signed him, oversaw his ascension to star from age 20, and extended his stay with generational wealth, eventually eats more than 15 million dollars to send him away.
Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, had clearly been given full clearance to eat big money in the name of a colossal organizational rebuild. This is a serious cash meal. Tom Ricketts has shown long term ownership commitment here, dealing with this sunk cost in a realistic way. Many smart Cubs fans have said for years that they would support a well thought out long view approach. The next year or two is their chance to prove it. It’s going to be a true test of patience and Epstoyer belief.
Since the night Zambrano got himself thrown out of that game in Atlanta on August 12th, we’ve had months to consider the possibilities of what would come back in trade. It ends up being a savings of 2.5 million dollars, from the 18 remaining on his once 91.5 million dollar deal, and 25 year old Chris Volstad. Volstad, the 16th overall pick in the 2005 amateur draft, was once a top pitching prospect, but he’s been awful in his three full seasons in Florida. Cleaning up Jim Hendry’s mess wasn’t going to be pretty. There is plenty of upside potential, as Volstad comes extremely cheap, under salary control for three seasons, and was on some scouts’ list as a candidate to improve in 2012 and beyond. After returning to the big leagues from a 19-day minor league assignment in August, Volstad posted a 3.48 ERA, 15 BB, 43 K in 44.1 innings over his last nine starts. But even if he’s a bust here, it’s the subtraction that’s the story.
Look at the hideousness in return for the contracts Hendry wrought. Milton Bradley ($30 million) yielded the Carlos Silva experience and a $6 million discount from Seattle. Kosuke Fukudome ($48 million) brought back two extremely low level prospects from Cleveland. With reports that three AL teams would consider Alfonso Soriano ($136 million) at the right price (very little), we will perhaps revisit this math before opening day.
Really, it’s amazing the Cubs got anything of substance, from perhaps the only organization willing to risk controlling Big Z, an organization clearly spearheaded by its public face manager, Z’s good friend Ozzie Guillen. The trade is worthy for both teams. It’s an extremely low risk move for the win now Marlins. Ozzie probably settles him down for four or five more starts than normal, happy to step in Z’s way on a bad day in a fashion no other manager ever has. If not, if it’s the same old Z while his stuff continues to decline, Miami can just cut him cheaply.
The Cubs can accelerate their desire for culture change with Zambrano joining Aramis Ramirez as excised personalities. Since Theo Epstein got here, he kept saying Zambrano could be a Cub, but he would have to change. If it was just spin to keep trade options alive, well played. I had thought it could work if need be, even giving Dale Sveum a chance to step up and give Z some discipline as a show of early strength. But away Z goes, and the clubhouse is down one declining bully. Watch for Kerry Wood, a loud Zambrano critic in this offseason to finalize another cheap deal to be part of the new way.
This is what a real rebuild looks like. If you didn’t know it was coming, you weren’t paying attention. Take a flier on a Volstad, an Ian Stewart, a Travis Wood. Go young, cheap, and full of possibilities, while launching the proven quantifiable pieces. Matt Garza might be next. Soriano exit dreams persist. Winning in 2012 or 2013 would be gravy, while the real protein is the foundation for 2014 and way, way beyond. The story becomes a fandom who has often talked the talk of wanting a team built the right way, and now gets their moment to walk the walk.
I think they will.