Meet Carlos Zambrano-Highest Paid Middle Reliever in Baseball History

by ThomasWayne

Some things in our great game never cease to amaze me. First and foremost of these things is watching a team re-live a contractual mistake over and over again. That’s exactly what the Cubs have done while watching (and paying for) the wild ride that is Carlos Zambrano. It’s like some bizarre version of GROUNDHOG DAY set in Wrigley Field, every morning you wake up hoping for change and all you ever get is the same damn thing, slightly re-dressed, but nauseatingly familiar.

But unlike Billy Murray, Cub fans can’t expect change with this man (or Andie McDowell in their bed in the morning).

If you haven’t heard, the Mighty “BIG Z” (the “Z” may stand more for ZERO than ZAMBRANO from this point on) and his 7.45 ERA and 1.86 WHIP has been removed from the Cubs starting rotation and banished to Wrigley’s ivy-covered bullpen (where they will fit in very nicely as the rest of the Cubbie relief core is a miserable 1-6 on the year with a 6.15 ERA and 4 blown saves in 7 opportunities).

All of this happens in the middle of Zambrano’s five year, $91.5 million dollar contract ($18.3 million annually) that now makes him the highest paid middle reliever (of underachieving starter, whichever you choose) in MLB history. The deal includes an option that could make Zambrano’s deal worth over $110 million by the end of the contract.

Now here is the part that actually amazes me. I saw this coming. I was able to see Zambrano for the non-professional punk he is. I know others who saw this to. They were sitting with me when it happened. Many of them Cubs fans. Many who moaned and groaned his signing  just as they did with Milton Bradley a year ago. I also know others who didn’t see it coming.  They thought Zambrano and his contract are great and justified.  They would be wrong. Apparently the Cubs upper brass and check writers fall into the latter.

Let me point out the obvious. This is not a talent thing. Zambrano is dripping with talent. Every time he takes the hill, talent wise, he’s in elite company. And at the plate he’s arguably the best hitting pitcher of the last two decades.

But talent is not enough. It never is and never will be. This is where stats fail to give us the complete picture of any given player.  The numbers can’t give you what’s going on in the head and the heart of the man being statistically quantified.

Zambrano’s head and heart are huge (read: HUGE) question marks. This is a man who has thrown more than one childish tantrum over the course of his big league career.  In the dugout he’s picked fights with teammates and beaten Gatorade coolers with great fervor.  On the mound he’s dominant one minute and the next he’s holding a grenade in one hand and the pin in the other. When things are going well, he’s a hard worker. When things aren’t going his way, he tends to be lazy. Without question these “problems” with his head and heart out weigh any positives he brings to the game.

But I digress. I’m not here to analyze Zambrano. I’m here to point out what I and others saw coming and so many others missed. I saw what kind of “man” Zambrano was, and it spoke volumes about him. It happened in 2004.

It was a game in May, I don’t remember the date, but I remember the events as if it happened just moments ago. In the first inning of a game against the Cubs dreaded rival Cardinals, Zambrano plugged then Cardinal stud Jim Edmonds in his first at bat. The umpires warned both teams and play continued. In the fourth inning Edmonds came up again, this time taking Zambrano deep. Edmonds, after being hit by that pitch in the first, took a little time to admire the shot before going into his trot. Big Bad Z glared at Edmonds as he rounded the bases and yelled something at him as he touched home plate.In the sixth Edmonds was up again, and Zambrano struck him out on three pitches to end the inning. He pounded his chest and wagged a finger at Edmonds as he came off the mound. With the score tied at 3 in the eighth Cardinal third sacker Scott Rolen took Zambrano out-of-the-yard with a two-run jack to put the Cardinals up 5-3.

Next man up- Jim Edmonds.

The next pitch Zambrano threw plugged Edmonds in the ribs.

Now, I have no problem with Zambrano hitting Edmonds. Its what he did after that defines him.  What he did told me right then and there that Carlos Zambrano would never be a winner at this or any other game. What he did should have been the first sign that re-signing him to any contract, let alone one potentially worth $100 million dollars or more, would be a HUGE mistake.

Carlos Zambrano plugged Jim Edmonds…..and ran away.

Yes. Ran away. He hopped off the mound and jogged into the Cubs dugout just as the home plate umpire was ejecting him, just as the Cardinals started to spill out of the dugout to confront the hurler. Just as Edmonds started toward the mound.

He ran away. Like a little boy trying to hide from a father who was going to spank him.

I can’t use the word I blurted out as I watched this “man” run off the field. It starts with a “P” and it ain’t “purple”.

If Zambrano had any guts (or nuts) he would have dropped his glove and told Edmonds to “come on”. He would have acted like a man who was responsible for his actions, not a goon or punk who starts a fight and then runs under the safety blanket that was the umpire’s ejection.

A winner doesn’t run. A man worthy of a $100 million dollar contract doesn’t pee his pants when responsibility steps up to stare him down. He stands pat and gives as good as he gets regardless of outcome. Regardless of fear.

The Cub fans watching the game with me were split. Some agreed with me that he was….well…”purple”, while others made excuses for him by saying  “he just didn’t want to kick Edmonds ass” and “he’s protecting his arm”.

Sure. Whatever helps you sleep at night.

Regardless, Carlos Zambrano ran away from his responsibility not only as a player, but as a man. And he’s been running ever since. Sure, there are signs of that occasional brilliance where his immense talent out weighs his weak heart and cloudy head, but they are showing up in smaller and fewer intervals.

So now Carlos Zambrano is nothing more than a really well paid late-inning guy. My guess is by the end of May (because of an injury or whatever) he will be back in the starting rotation. The Cubs probably won’t have a choice in the matter. He’s getting paid like a number one starter better use him as a number one starter.

But he will never be a winner. He’ll collect his paycheck but he will have never earned it. He had a chance to earn every dime of it in 2004 against the Cardinals by standing on the mound like a man and he showed he wasn’t worth a wooden nickel.

The Cubs may never admit it, but right now, they wish they had looked at little deeper at Zambrano and saw what I saw in that game against St. Louis in 2004.

Had they looked deeper you can bet they would have run away from Big Z.

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32 Responses to “Meet Carlos Zambrano-Highest Paid Middle Reliever in Baseball History”

  1. Raul Says:

    The game was July 19th, 2004.

    St. Louis at Chicago.
    5-4 Final.

    W – Carpenter
    L – Zambrano
    S – Isringhausen

    Jim Edmonds homered in the 4th and struck out in the 6th.
    Top of the 8th, Scott Rolen homered, then Edmonds was hit.

  2. brautigan Says:

    ….and don’t forget the Mike Barrett incident in the Cub’s dugout. Zam man=head case.

  3. ThomasWayne Says:

    Thanks for clearing up the date. I’m not sure why I thought it was in May, may have been another big Cardinal/Cub game and I was getting the dates mixed up.

    Thanks again,

  4. Seven Says:

    To be fair to Zambrano, he’s been better this year than those numbers would indicate. Yes he torched in his first outing. But he gave up a respectable-if-not-good 8 ER in his last three starts (18 IP). Alotta baserunners in those 18 innings though, no doubt. But I don’t think he’s been so dreadfully terrible to just give up on him after 4 starts, considering that he’s been a pretty good starter for the last 6 or 7 years.

    I guess my point is that this move is as much of an indictment of how bad the Cubs’ bullpen has been. They’ve gotten good starting pitching so far, but their bullpen (.802 OPS against, 6.14 ERA) has been dreadfully bad and can’t finish games (4 blown saves).

    But yeah it’s pretty amazing that Zambrano (and his money) is the one being moved to help the bullpen.

  5. Seven Says:

    Also Thomas…

    The incident you’re talking about occurred when Zambrano was only 23 years old. Maybe the Cubs chalked it up to immaturity. It also occurred during his best year so I’m sure they were willing to put up with a few headaches in exchange for that 2.75 ERA.

    But he didn’t sign that big contract until three years later at the end of the 2007 season, which was the third straight year his numbers declined. That probably should have been as much of a red flag as anything. Perhaps they should have looked at his actual performance, his mental issues notwithstanding.

  6. Chuck Says:

    The most telling thing about this whole incident were the quotes made by Lou Piniella.

    He basically threw GM Ted Hendry under the bus, essentially saying he put the ball in Hendry’s court and it’s now up to him to make a move.

    Zambrano makes too much money to be in the pen for an extended period.

    Zambrano has a full no trade, and even if he didn’t, NO ONE is going to touch him with his contract and attitude.

    Which leaves one option left.

    Lou Piniella, meet the unemployment line.

    Ryne Sandberg, welcome back to Chicago.

    Did you see THAT coming, Thomas?


  7. Raul Says:

    Lou shouldn’t be managing this team anyway.

    The guy was retired, living the dream. The only job he should have ever considered was managing the Yankees.

    The Cubs weren’t a contender then, and they aren’t one now. And Lou’s too damn old to be wasting time with a bunch of mediocre players.

    The only decent guys on that team are Geovanny Soto, Derrek Lee and Carlos Marmol.

    I’m surprised Piniella hasn’t hanged himself at the fact that Fukublowme is making 14 million this year and is the 4th highest paid player on the team.

  8. Hossrex Says:

    Edmonds would have kicked his ass.

    Reading this leaves me with two thoughts.

    1: He’ll be back in the rotation FAR sooner than late May, for the exact reasons you laid out. He simply makes too much money not to start, and general managers seem to have no problem compounding one problem (i.e. paying bad players too much money) with another (i.e. continuing to play the expensive bad players, even if they lose baseball games because of it).

    2: Soriano will join him shortly as the most expensive pinch hitter of all time (36 million combined dollars, and neither deserve to be starting).

    The Zambrano contract is actually LESS justified than the Zito contract. I’d argue that Zito is actually worth nearly 15 million dollars per year, simply on the guarantee that he’ll make 32-34 starts.

    All said and done though, I frankly don’t expect Big Z to miss more than two starts. Phil Hendry will be forced to make the “pitch him, or your fired” ultimatum (as you implied in the article), and Pinella will either back down like a “purple”, or Sandberg will come up on the condition that he put Z back in the rotation. Sandberg will then come up as a sycophant, and be fired without finishing a complete year because he’ll be nothing more than a mouthpiece for the front office, which is a guaranteed way to lose 100 games.

    There isn’t a General Manager in the game who wouldn’t fill out his line-up card by just plugging in the most expensive person at each position.

  9. Chuck Says:

    …and be fired without finishing a complette year because he’ll be nothing more than a mouthpiece for the front office, which is a guaranteed way to lose 100 games.”

    So, what you’re saying is this year is exactly the same for the Cubs as the last 102?

  10. Raul Says:

    The Barry Zito contract was outrageous, and probably still is. Although maybe in the end people will compare his contract to AJ Burnett or John Lackey or Derek Lowe and feelt a bit differently.

    Hossrex makes a point. Zito will go out there every 5th day, and I guess that counts for something.

    After the All-Star break in 2009, Barry Zito pitched 86 innings and put up a 2.83 ERA. And in his 3 starts in 2010, he’s 2-0 posting a 1.86 ERA.

    I know it’s only 19 innings, and he beat the Astros and Pirates…not exactly powerhouses…but he did manage to hold the Dodgers to 1 run in 7 innings in a No-Decision in his last start.

    I’d consider Zito a serviceable player. I’m sure a lot of teams would take him as their 3rd or 4th guy in the rotation.

  11. brautigan Says:

    Hey Chuck: I’m going to see Sandberg anyway! I’m going to catch Iowa playing in Reno in May, so I’ll notch #9 (autograph) when I see him!

  12. Bastaduci Says:

    I have never been a big Zambrano fan but I think Piniella is loco for taking him from the starting rotation after only 4 games. Lou knows more than me though so we will see how it works out.

    I remember the day I thought the Cubs needed to get rid of Zambrano and his roid rage and that was when him and Barrett got into the clubhouse fight during a game. I would of gotten rid of both at that moment. of course the worse of 2 players will almost always be the 1 that goes so Barrett was gone pretty much immediately.

  13. JD Says:

    This reminds me of my second favorite minor league game story. Sorry for being slightly off point in advance. Milton Bradley coming to bat in the top of the first inning in a AA game. He throws a tantrum while walking to the plate and gets thrown out of the game before the first pitch. Who would have thought he’d be a Cubbie down the line then? Not too surprising he ended up there, though, when you think about it. They do seem to forget that the intangible can matter sometimes. Not always, but sometimes.

  14. Seven Says:

    Speaking of headcase pitchers, did anyone see Dallas Braden screaming at A-Rod tonight? That is awesome. “Get off my mound!”

  15. Raul Says:

    Unwritten rules are unwritten for a reason: they’re bullsh*t.

    He talks about how A-Rod should learn from Jeter? Jeter wouldn’t do something like that?

    Well what if Jeter DID do that? Would Braden be screaming at Jeter? Not a f*cking chance.

    This is just another case of a guy taking a shot at Alex Rodriguez because he perceives every one of Alex’s actions as pretentious and arrogant douchebaggery — which may be the case sometimes, but I don’t think this was one of them.

  16. Seven Says:

    I don’t disagree with you Raul, but I still thought it was priceless. And oh man I only wish it WAS Jeter that he was screaming at.

    So is the pitcher’s mound like the crease for a hockey goalie? It’s HIS space and his space only? When the goalie covers up the puck, his defenders usually police the area to prevent forwards from crashing the net late.

    I’d love to see this happen in MLB. You could put a big goon at first base to stand near the mound after the play is over and shove guys like A-Rod to the ground if they get too close. Yes. I love this idea.

  17. Michael Crowe Says:

    Peter Gammons once said that Zambrano has a mid 80s fastball from the left side. Perhaps he just needs a new glove.

  18. Raul Says:

    I think the day that Peter Gammons said that, was the initial stage of senility.

  19. Hossrex Says:

    I was over at my parents house for dinner last night, and my father and I were watching one of the baseball shows. We were both cracking up over the Braden/Arod thing.

    I said to him “I’ve never heard of that… that it’s bad etiquette to walk over the pitchers mound… have you? He (still laughing) says no… then two seconds later Arod’s says the exact same thing… ‘I’ve never even heard of that’.”

    Braden was talking like it’s something everyone’s taught in little league.

    I tell ya… if I ever have the chance to watch him pitch, I’m sure as hell going to be watching for whether or not he steps on the foul line as he’s walking to the mound.

    At least that’s a “rule” that *EVERY* FREAKING *BODY* knows.

    I’d like to have seen what Braden would have done if Arod had walked across “his” mound in Yankee Stadium. The little prick would have kept his mouth shut, and he knows it.

  20. Jim Says:

    As much as it pains me to say anything nice about Arod, it was a bit of classic gamesmanship along the lines of Larry Bird’s trash talking.

  21. JohnBowen Says:

    uhhhhhhhhvvvvvvvv course.

  22. JohnBowen Says:

    this one, sorry.

  23. Hossrex Says:

    John Bowen: “”

    Oh my. That’s awesome.

    Anyone unconvinced about the absurdity of Fangraphs dollar value “statistic” needs to read that article, and in particular this quote: “(According the the Fangraph statistic) no player makes his worth on the free-agent market.

    No player makes his worth.

    That’s ridiculous.

    At that point, “worth” is clearly being miscalculated.

    I know all the arguments in favor of the “dollar value”, and they’re all stupid. Very very stupid.

  24. KMCole Says:

    I shall preface my comments by stating that I’m a Cardinal fan, so it’s impossible for me not to giggle just a little bit at this.

    As someone stated earlier, Zambrano hasn’t been nearly as bad as his ERA this year. He’s actually been trending (mostly) downward in ERA+, SO/9, and SO/BB while trending (not surprisingly) upward in H/9 during the past five years. So there had to be a point at which Cubs management would have to confront the idea that Big Z isn’t the pitcher he was when he was in his early 30s. (There, I said it.)

    But I like Big Z, and I think he really got the shaft here. I’m surprised he didn’t have more to say about it, and I have to think that there’s more to it…perhaps a dead arm or something of the sort where his temporary relocation was agreed upon.

    As for the A-Rod thing, I thought it was interesting that not one of the boobs on BBTN seemed to have any knowledge of that “rule.” I understand Braden’s frustration, but it seems to me like an opportunity to get the team artificially fired up like a NBA coach getting that timely technical.

  25. KMCole Says:

    OK, I can’t contain myself! Here are some gratuitous shots at the Cubs:

    In 2011, the Cubs owe their top six salaried players a total of $94.225M. Those players? Zambrano, Soriano, Ramirez, Fukudome, Dempster, and Silva. Hardly the 1927 Yankees. To put that in perspective (as though it doesn’t adequately astound on its own) those six players stand to make $22M more next year than the entire Rays roster makes in 2010. I don’t reckon I need to compare the two teams.

    In 2012, the Cubs have committed $65M (not counting buyouts) to Soriano, Zambrano, Dempster, Byrd, and…swallow hard, Cubs fans…Jeff Samardzija. I’m going to bet that only one of those players is at or above league average by then.

    The Cubs owe Alfonso Soriano almost $100M. He’s beyond washed up. The Cubs owe Alfonso Soriano almost $100M.

    Thanks for letting me gloat. 1908. 1908. 1908! Hahahaha!

  26. Hossrex Says:

    KMCole: “Big Z isn’t the pitcher he was when he was in his early 30s.”

    There might be a touch of facetiousness there… so I apologize if my explanation *IS* the joke… but Big Z is only 29 right now.

    I totally agree he “feels” older though. I went through this same thing last year, when I looked him up, and expected him to be 33… only to find out he was 28.

    And… if they could all stay healthy, and just produce at their Cub normal levels… Zambrano, Soriano, Ramirez, Fukudome, Dempster, and Silva would be the core of an AMAZING team.

    Comparing them to the 27 Yankees would be like finishing every meal you eat by saying “it wasn’t as good as that one meal I had 5 years ago. Now THAT was a hell of a meal. By comparison, this was a joke.”

    You picked the 27 Yankees, because by comparison EVERY TEAM EVER looks like a joke… which sort of cheapens your statement that the 2010 Cubs are a joke.

    I’d have gone with the ‘03 Cubbies. Compared to the ‘03 Cubbies, this ‘10 team is a sack of crap… and that’s not an unrealistic comparison.

  27. Chuck Says:

    Personally, I would have used the 1969 Cubs. I mean, here’s a team with two HOF position players and neither was good enough to hit clean-up.

  28. Hossrex Says:

    Chuck: “and neither was good enough to hit clean-up.”

    Hey… you’re the one saying Santo was overrated.

  29. JohnBowen Says:

    I went ahead and bbr’d Ron Santo just for kicks…what’s the deal with these ‘74 sox uniforms?

  30. Cameron Says:

    Really makes you appreciate what Crash Allen did on the south side, dominating the league in a uniform like that.

  31. KMCole Says:

    Obvious hyperbole, Hoss. I guess my point was that the millions are sunk with current North Side bunch into guys who are well past their primes.

    And yes, Zambrano’s age was a little jab there…If he’s 29, so am I. (and I’m not.) We’ve got one in St. Louis who draws his share of suspicion…just spreading the love!

  32. Chuck Says:

    “Hey, you’re the one saying Santo was overrated.”

    And here I am thinking the sarcasm in the comment was obvious.

    “V-8 slap to the forehead.”

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