Big Z: Too good, too late
Carlos Zambrano is an enigma. There is no telling what will happen when he takes the mound for the Chicago Cubs. He could get shelled for 8 runs in just an inning and third as he did on opening day 2010 against the Braves in Atlanta. Or Big Z can effortlessly toss 8 2/3 shutout, 3-hit, 9-k innings as he did last night in Milwaukee against the Brewers. He is now 5-0 since returning to the rotation last month following his return anger management treatment.
Zambrano’s dismal showing the first four months of this season was nearly bad enough to run him out of town. However he was so bad, and has such a hefty contract, Jim Hendry couldn’t *give*his ace away. Think about that, the opening day starter for the team with highest payroll in the National League could not give away their ace pitcher. So there was no trade made by the non-waiver deadline of July 31. In August, the team could have (and most certainly did) put Z on waivers to give him up again for nothing. No takers. Why? Because he didn’t start throwing well until mid-August when he began the winning streak he’s presently on. So Hendry couldn’t unload Z before the August 31 deadline for teams to qualify roster positions for post-season. So now Zambrano rips off 5 wins in a row, each game getting a little better, culminating in last night’s gem against the Brewers. Will this be the norm going forward or is this the exception while Carlos is feeling contrite and under little pressure?
Now the Cubs are faced with having to predict whether Carlos has finally FINALLY overcome his demons and will start fulfilling the promise he’s shown in glimpses for years. Or if going forward will be more of the same unpredictability, distractions, and volatility? Obviously if Zambrano can pitch consistently like he has over his last 6 starts, he’s a keeper. But people rarely change, and even when they do, lasting change is slow to come. If Carlos can pitch the remainder of this month like he has over the past month, maybe – maybe – Hendry can find a taker for him in the off season. I fear though that his sudden improvement will gaslight the Cubs brass into penciling in Big Z as the Cubs ace in 2011, a year that at this point seems to be a transition year for the team.
I wish Carlos Zambrano all the success in the world in managing his feelings and pitching to the extent of his obvious talent. But seldom has a better case for a “change of scenery” trade been presented. So my hope is Z pitches lights-out for the remainder of 2010 and Jim Hendry can unload the heavy burden (financially andÂ emotionally) that Big Z has become. Maybe the Cubs can even get a decent prospect in return?