Pitcher Carlos Zambrano of the Chicago Cubs looks to first base during a game against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)
Carlos Zambrano's antics got him suspended and sent home by the Cubs in August. He and Ozzie Guillen are close friends. Could Ozzie's new managing position mean a new team for Big Z?
Carlos Zambrano started for the Cubs and gave up four runs in the first inning. Apparently upset at first baseman Derrek Lee for what Big Z felt was lack of effort at trying to head off a shot down the line, he yelled at the mild-mannered Lee in the dugout; eventually, it took then-bench coach Alan Trammell to step in between them to head off a physical confrontation. Zambrano was removed from the game and sent home; then-GM Jim Hendry suspended him:
"His conduct was not acceptable," Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said. "It has become a bit of a tired act."
Hendry said Zambrano's suspension was indefinite pending an investigation by Major League Baseball and the players association. Hendry said he spoke briefly with Zambrano, who was sent home during the game by manager Lou Piniella, but didn't indicate whether the pitcher apologized for his actions.
"We had a very short conversation, there wasn't a lot of time for apologies," Hendry said.
But Z didn't go home. Or, maybe he went home to change clothes and dress for a night on the town, because he went out to dinner with Ozzie Guillen that night:
White Sox general manager Ken Williams admitted that having his manager go out for dinner with an opposing player, as Ozzie Guillen did Friday with the the Cubs' Carlos Zambrano, could be tricky.
"In an ordinary situation, yes, and I might feel compelled to pick up the phone and call the opposing general manager," Williams said Saturday on WMVP-AM 1000. "But Jim is very well aware of the relationship those two gentlemen have, and I think is also aware of the positive influence that Ozzie can have on his friend. It's not about baseball, it's about his friend.
"Ozzie would be quick to tell you that Carlos Zambrano is one of the finest people that he knows in his life. Out of the uniform (he's) a little bit different type guy than you saw on display yesterday."
Guillen and Zambrano, both natives of Venezuela, have been friends for many years. It still struck fans of both the Cubs and White Sox as odd that they would have dinner together in the middle of a series between the two clubs.
This year, Zambrano was again sent home and placed on the disqualified list, this time after walking out on the Cubs after a bad outing Aug. 12 in Atlanta and telling people he was "retiring". The Cubs reinstated him this month but told him not to report back to Wrigley Field, and team chairman Tom Ricketts told an ESPN audience during their game telecast at Wrigley on Aug. 21 that he had "a hard time imagining" Big Z taking the mound for the Cubs again.
Zambrano's contract runs through the end of 2012. He's still owed $18 million (also, there is a $19.25 million vesting player option for 2013 that is very unlikely to vest). The Cubs would most certainly love to get out from under the burden of this deal. And the 2012 Marlins could use an experienced starting pitcher; presumably, with Ozzie there to keep an eye on his friend Carlos, Big Z might contribute instead of explode.
There's a creative way to do this which would benefit both teams. Perhaps the Marlins, who are moving into a new stadium and will likely draw close to twice the 1.5 million fans they'll finish 2011 with, would be able to increase their payroll above the current 24th-ranked, $56 million, and pay half of Zambrano's deal, sending a couple of low-level prospects to the Cubs in return. $9 million would make Zambrano the fourth-highest-paid Marlin, behind Hanley Ramirez ($15 million in 2012), Josh Johnson ($13.75 million) and Ricky Nolasco ($11.5 million).
The Marlins would get a starter who has been solid when he's been able to keep his emotions in check -- something that Ozzie would presumably help him with, being around him every day. The Cubs would get $9 million of salary relief for 2012, which they could sorely use. I'm not the only one who thinks this is a good idea, either; there's similar speculation at ESPN Chicago, from the Chicago Tribune and from Hardball Talk.
Ozzie Guillen hasn't officially been signed as Marlins manager, but with the reports that the White Sox will get two players in exchange for him, it's just a matter of time before Guillen dons the Miami Marlins' wacky new logo, probably on a three-year contract.
It makes sense for both teams, and it could resurrect Zambrano's career. When the Cubs hire a new general manager, his first phone call should be to Larry Beinfest.