Cubs GM Jim Hendry says Carlos Zambrano's contract wasn't a bad deal … and he's right

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At this point anything having to do with Carlos Zambrano seems like a disaster, but general manager Jim Hendry said yesterday that the five-year, $91.5 million extension the Cubs gave the now-suspended right-hander in mid-2007 was a perfectly reasonable deal:

There was nothing wrong with the investment. This guy was an outstanding pitcher in the National League, in the game, for the four, five years before that. There was no question that the deal was a solid one in the industry. He certainly would have been one of the hotter tickets on the street if that thing went to the end of the season.

This guy pitched a lot of innings, won a lot of games. Really, over the body of work, pitched as well as anybody in the National League for a three, four year period. He certainly pitched well enough to earn that contract whether it’s here or somewhere else.

And you know what? He’s right.

At the time of the deal there were certainly some signs that Zambrano wouldn’t age particularly well, because his performance had already slipped a bit and he’d racked up a ton of mileage on his arm. However, he was a 26-year-old workhorse with an 82-55 record and 3.41 ERA in nearly 1,200 career innings, including five straight 200-inning seasons and top-five Cy Young finishes in three of the previous four years.

There’s some room for debate about whether the Cubs should have committed themselves to five more years of Zambrano, but there’s no question $91.5 million represented significantly less than he would have received on an open market that was much more flush with cash than the current version. That was $35 million less than Barry Zito got from the Giants just six months earlier, and that same offseason the Cubs gave $136 million to Alfonso Soriano.

Perhaps the Cubs should have seen this coming, whether from a performance or personality standpoint, but if anything investing $91.5 million over five seasons in a 26-year-old Zambrano was a bargain in the ’07 market.

Blue Jays will have a closer competition this spring

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Roberto Osuna became the youngest pitcher to ever play for the Blue Jays last season at age 20 and he rose to the challenge with a 2.58 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, and 75/16 K/BB ratio in 69 2/3 frames. Osuna eventually took over as Toronto’s closer, earning 20 regular-season saves and one in the American League Division Series — a five-out effort in Game 5 to close out the visiting Rangers.

But the Jays upgraded the back end of their bullpen this winter, acquiring Drew Storen from the Nationals in early January for speedy outfielder Ben Revere. Jesse Chavez was also brought to Toronto in a trade with the A’s.

Storen has more experience at closer than Osuna, and Storen struggled when the Nationals tried to put him in a setup role. Storen, in his final year of salary arbitration, also gets paid much more. He’s probably going to enter spring training as the favorite for the Jays’ ninth-inning gig, but there will be a competition …

Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins told Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca on Wednesday that he doesn’t expect the team to choose between Osuna or Storen until midway through spring training, if not later.

There’s been talk of making Osuna a starter, so add that wrinkle.

Storen, 28, boasts 95 career major league saves.

Orioles plotting late-offseason push? Gallardo, Fowler, Alvarez, Bruce in consideration

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Baltimore’s front office appears to be lining up a run of potential roster additions leading into the beginning of spring training.

We’ve already passed along the reports suggesting they are close to a three-year deal with free agent starter Yovani Gallardo, but now FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal adds that free agent outfielder Dexter Fowler could be next on the Orioles’ target list. It they get those two deals done, the O’s could then chase free agent slugger Pedro Alvarez.

Rosenthal says the Orioles are even eyeing Jay Bruce of the Reds, though the FOX reporter hears the O’s might not have the prospects to pull off that kind of trade.

The focus for the Orioles out of the gate this winter was re-signing Matt Wieters and Chris Davis. Wieters accepted his one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer in November and Davis was locked up to a seven-year, $161 million contract in mid-January.

Now the O’s are spending a little leftover cash on late-offseason additions to improve their position in what should be a tight 2016 American League East race.

Brandon Belt signs $6.2 million deal, avoiding arbitration with Giants

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In a last-second compromise before a scheduled heading today, first baseman Brandon Belt and the Giants have avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $6.2 million deal.

Belt requested $7.5 million and the Giants countered at $5.3 million, so they’ve settled slightly on the team-friendly side of the midpoint. Belt will be arbitration eligible again next season for the final time before hitting the open market as a free agent.

He’s coming off a very good season in which he hit .280 with 18 homers and an .834 OPS in 137 games and Belt has a lifetime .803 OPS through age 27, making him one of MLB’s most underrated all-around first baseman.

Orioles sign ex-Padres reliever Dale Thayer

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Right-hander Dale Thayer and the Orioles have agreed to a minor-league contract that includes an invitation to spring training.

Thayer had a rough 2015 season for the Padres, posting a 4.06 ERA and spending time in the minors, but he was a solid part of San Diego’s bullpen from 2012-2014 with a combined 3.02 ERA and 173/50 K/BB ratio in 188 innings.

At age 35 there’s no guarantee that Thayer will look good enough to claim a spot on the Opening Day roster, but he’s got a strong chance to wind up pitching middle relief for Baltimore.