By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) Mike Quade is losing it (if the Cubs are still in contention, then the U.S. Women’s World Cup team is, too). And the Cubs are just losing (now a three-game losing streak after finally winning three in a row).READ MORE: Opening Statements Begin In Jussie Smollett Trial
But Carlos Zambrano? Well, remarkably enough, he’s keeping it together.
And unless the Cubs can actually get a good deal for “Big Z” – not just one in which they still pay the bulk of his salary – I think the team should keep him because of that.
Because, while for years – and for good reason – many people have criticized Zambrano for his volatile behavior (myself included), the fact is that perhaps the craziest guy on the Cubs roster is the only one in the entire organization who’s talked any sense this season.
Yes, Carlos Zambrano, the Cubs’ voice of reason.
Back in early June, after the Cubs blew an extra-innings game to the Cardinals capping off a sweep in St. Louis, Zambrano blew up afterwards, saying: “We should know better than this. We play like a Triple-A team. This is embarrassing. Embarrassing for the team and the owners. Embarrassing for the fans. Embarrassed – that’s the word for this team.
“We should know better than what we (did) on the field. We should know that Ryan Theriot is not a good a fastball hitter. We should know that as a team. We should play better here. We stinks. That’s all I have to say.”
After his outburst, some criticized Zambrano for calling out a teammate (Carlos Marmol). But I lauded him for actually caring enough about the team to speak out. And I pointed out that never once in his diatribe did Zambrano utter the words “he” or “they.” He only used “we.”
Besides all that, he was right. The Cubs do play like a Triple-A team.
This past Wednesday night, Zambrano showed up against the Brewers, but the Cubs’ bats did not during a 2-0 loss in Milwaukee. And, afterwards, the pitcher responded to trade rumors involving him before again weighing in on the disaster that is the 2011 Cubs.
He also talked about the direction in which the 2012 Cubs need to go.
“I do want to stay, but at the same point, I want this team to make some changes,” Zambrano said. “And if we want to win here, we need to make some changes. If I have to go, I have to go, but I’ll still have the Cubs in my heart. If the change has to be me, that’s OK.”READ MORE: Officials Seek To Quell Fears Over New Omicron COVID-19 Variant As Concerns And Questions Grow; 'There Is No Reason For Panicking'
Zambrano was then asked what kind of “changes” he was requesting and simply replied: “Change. Change. A lot of change to win.”
And when asked if he meant “change,” as in new players?
“Change,” was all he said again, before walking away.
Now, Zambrano could have been talking about changing managers (with the team 21 games under .500, that needs to happen). He could have been talking about changing general managers (ditto). Or he could have been talking about changing faces in the lineup (ditto again).
But whatever kind of change Zambrano was demanding, I don’t think he necessarily needs to be part of it, even if plenty of fans do. Because, in this season of minimal bright spots, “Big Z” has been about the closest thing that we’ve seen to one on the Cubs’ pitching staff.
Building on his strong finish to the 2010 campaign during which Zambrano seemed to finally realize that he could no longer just throw the ball and had to instead start pitching it, he is currently the only Cubs pitcher with a record above .500 (7-6). And while his ERA is mediocre at 4.59 and his strikeouts way down, I’d argue that he’s been the team’s best hurler this season.
Now, is he worth the $17 million-plus he’s being paid? Absolutely not (another reason why Hendry should go). Zambrano is no longer a No. 1 starter. He’s probably not even a No. 2. Considering that, if the Cubs can get a package of strong prospects in exchange for Zambrano and/or get another team to pay most of his remaining contract, then go ahead and deal him.
But if the Cubs trade the guy and still have to pay the majority of his freight – as was rumored in the proposed deal with the Yankees – then I don’t see how that really helps the Cubs at all.
It doesn’t give the team more cash to work with this offseason. And if that’s going to be the case, then just keep him. Zambrano can still be a usable piece in 2012.
After all, this awful season isn’t his fault. In fact, he’s the only on one the Cubs who’s had the guts to call it out for just how awful it is.
And he deserves some credit for that.
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If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.