Yesterday, Chicago Cubs SP Carlos Zambrano was traded to the Miami Marlins for some 6’8″ pitcher guy who has sucked for the last 3 seasons. The Cubs will eat $15 million of Zambrano’s $18 million 2012 salary and…that’s about it. I honestly don’t care if there is more to this trade. Don’t give a damn if the Marlins will later throw in a low-level, barely craptastic prospect. Don’t care if this giant ball of near-nothing the Cubs got in return is under team control through 2015 and motivated to pitch better now that he’s a Chicago Cub. Carlos Zambrano, my favorite Cub of the last decade, is no longer a Cub.
Yes, I know that Zambrano was rather, well, nutty. Emotional, fiery, aggressive, loud, demonstrative…pick an adjective that falls in line with the rest of those; it matters none. Perhaps he was the Cubs’ ace by default once Mark Prior and Kerry Wood fell apart, but he was their ace. Not only he was a good pitcher, but he was without a doubt the best-hitting pitcher I’ve ever seen. Like myself, he is a switch-hitter and unlike myself, swung for the fences every time he stepped up to the plate. He ran the bases like a position player, and not a pitcher who didn’t want to strain his pinky toe. And while defensively, Z was no Greg Maddux or Mark Buehrle, he fielded his position extremely well for a man who checks in at 6’5″, 250. Most importantly, he made an insanely boring Cubs team interesting, especially when he was flying off the handle like a madman.
I often related to Zambrano, even when he was blowing up at teammates, umpires and coaches. When I played baseball, even as a Little Leaguer, I was the same way. I hated thinking that I was getting less than 100% from any of those people, and I was never afraid to voice my displeasure with it. It wasn’t a constant, but it was indeed something that happened. Ground balls that went through teammates’ legs, coaches who made questionable decisions, and umpires who made bad calls drew my ire when I felt it necessary. I would yell, gesture and sometimes curse (which got me ejected from games more than a few times) to get my point across. Was it wrong? Hell yes. Did I make my point? Hell yes. All I ever wanted to do was win. I didn’t care how our team got the W, as long as we got it. I believe that’s how Zambrano was, regardless of the perception that he was nothing more than a petulant, selfish adult-sized baby when he was a Cub. You know what, though? At times, he was. Still, there was no one I enjoyed watching more than Mr. Carlos Zambrano during his tenure with the team.
Maybe Zambrano had to be dealt. Perhaps Theoyer feels that in order to truly rebuild, they have to move as many pieces that would (conceivably) hold the team back from doing so as quickly as possible. How else could you explain the smartest front office in the history of sports not even allowing Z to “audition” for other teams in spring training so the Cubs could get something better in return than the awful giant and possibly not have to pay close to 85% of Z’s 2012 salary? Admittedly, I’m confused because I could’ve sworn that Sir Epstein stated that Z would have every possible chance to pitch for the Cubs in 2012. I suppose at the end of the day, he felt it would be more risk than reward. Hell, what do I know. I’m not even that great of a GM on MLB: The Show.
When Z blew up in the Cubs dugout in June of 2010 during their series against the Pale Hose, I applauded him. At the time, the Cubs were playing terribly and it seemed that none of the other 24 guys on the MLB roster seemed to have a care in the world. Supposed “leader” Derrek Lee finally showed a little emotion, but only to tell Z to “shut the fuck up” (if my lip-reading skills were on point that day). I absolutely loved Z’s display of anger and frustration. It showed me that all of the ineptitude that surrounded the Cubs to that point had finally gotten to someone who steps on that field to not only help the team win games, but earn their paycheck. When Z blasted the Cubs team last June after closer Carlos Marmol gave up a walkoff home run to Albert Pujols, again, I was in his corner. The Cubs were playing like a Triple A team. He was right to call out Marmol, I suppose. Whether it was the fault of then-pitching coach Mark Riggins, catcher Geovany Soto or Marmol, the pitch selection was terrible and someone should’ve had the common sense to deduce that former Cub Ryan Theriot can at the very least hit a decent fastball. Could Z have better articulated himself? Of course he could have. Should he have? Hell no. What he said needed to be said and clearly, no one else in the Cubs organization had the balls to even come close to insinuating what Z exclaimed to anyone within earshot.
He was wrong to quit on his team last season, even if only temporarily. He is no longer the pitcher he was earlier in his career, when it looked as if he would be better than both Prior and Wood. While many pinned their hopes solely on the shoulders of Prior and Wood, I looked at Zambrano as the future ace. Despite his lack of control and poise on the mound, his stuff alone gave me more than hope that the Cubs would someday win a World Series title. It gave me confidence.
His lack of production along with the plethora of outbursts in recent seasons have made him expendable, and I get that. But dammit, Theoyer, you traded away my homeboy. This had better pay off.