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.