Spiegel: Zambrano’s Exit Is Fans’ Opportunity

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.

More from Matt Spiegel
  • Meatless Meatball

    I sure will. I haven’t been interested in baseball for YEARS (yeah, yeah, call me a fairweather fan — I am), but I think I’m a believer in Theo/Hoyer. Launching Zambrano — and getting anything at all for him — is nothing short of miraculous, and it is, quite frankly, a bigger deal than I think Matt is making about it.

    It’s amazing the comparisons that can be made between the teams Jim Hendry and Jerry Angelo have left behind. Both were built from the top down, and the cost of that has lead to two teams completely dysfunctional within their own schemes. But we also see the difference in how the leadership of the organizations view the future: the Rickettses brought in Theo Epstein, probably the most coveted of baseball execs, and began building for the future; the Bears… well, they still think they can win now, so who cares about the future? ::ahem::

  • Fysh

    Cubs need Kerry Wood to mentor young guys on how to waste Cubs money on the DL. I don’t get the clamoring for Wood. He will be on the DL at least 3 times and is on his last legs. To me, seeing him on the team is a reminder of what could have been for teams like the 2003, 2004, 2007 and 2008 Cubs. I’m tired of Wood being a fierce critic of Z and Sosa when the guys are all but assured out of town. It’s easy to talk trash when everything is done. The guy has stolen money from the Cubs..kick him to the curb or have him take Moreland’s or Holly’s job. The time for Wood is over. Regardless of what media saps who love him think.

  • Zatso

    In the year 2025, if Theo is still alive, an announcement of a new 5 year plan to bring the cubbies back into contention.


  • Jake from da burbs

    I like Epstoyer’s plan of cleaning out the mess and filth of bad chemistry, bad teammates, bad examples, bad influences etc. However, just getting rid of Ramirez, Zambrano and maybe Soriano is one thing, it requires Epstoyer to replace them with good teammates, good examples and good influences. In short, Cubs need to bring in true positive and vocal leaders.

    Its the one thing the Cubs have always lacked. Good vocal leadership.

    Cubs have done a good job of ripping up the ground and getting rid of the weeds but they really need to lay down some good fertilizer to allow for good growth.

    I wouldn’t be suprised if you see some Kevin Millar or Jason Varitek type additions here. Veteran, great club house influences to show some of the remaining future pieces (Starlin, Barney, Jackson, Vitters etc) how to play the game the right way. These veterans should be extensions of Dale Sveum’s message.

    As for Volstad, he’s young enough to hope that he could turn things around. He’s 25 and has had several pitching coaches. A consistent voice will be nice for his growth. The key will be to try and use his 6’8 frame and use that to his advantage.

    We’ll see what happens but things are starting to look hopeful.

  • Earful

    Angelo, Martz, Zambrano…now if we can only make the kreepy Kars For Kids Guy disappear. He causes more Clicks and Station Changes than the lady lawyer with the bad voice pitching Crotch Assistance. Just trying to help.

    • Jake from da burbs

      Oh and the lady who talks to the dog, giving it instructions while she’s out… in that one Pet treat commercial… she can go too. I HATE, HATE, HATE, that commercial!! Aaaarrgghh… dirves me nuts!

  • mike in davenport

    Good deal. I said it before, and I’ll say it again: I am more than happy to watch a few years of bad baseball if I know that perennial contention is on the way.

    Look at it this way; except for 3 postseason appearances this decade, we fans have already been watching the bad baseball. We may as well take the future good team, too.

    Matt, you hit the nail on the head with the fans, though. How many calls do you think you’ll have to take from people who don’t understand what’s happening with the team?

  • Joel Edmonson

    I agree 100%, I say trade Garza, if you can get 3-4 top prospects. You are not going to win with him, so if you can fill maybe 3 spots down the road, do it. I think Soriano will be gone two, doesn’t make any sense to keep him. Byrd too, We need to go as young and athletic as possible.

  • No tax dollars to Cubs

    Ricketts better do his homework if he comes to the City or State with hat in hand wanting tax dollars to rebuild that dump—the way money has been wasted on that Team, by he and those before him ,give taxpayers all the ammunition they need to say this Team and its owners seem to have lots of money to throw to scrubs who didnt deliver, so why should we invest ours?

    Looking at the money that has been wasted at that address is enough to call for an audit. No tax dollars to an organization that has proven it wastes money like they have and still are. 15 million to make a guy go away? And save the speech about “sunken cost”…bad investments are still bad investments. That place has had too many to lean on tax dollars for help. They seem to have plenty to throw around.

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