Carlos Zambrano has a nutso player option . . . that could be serious trouble for baseball

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We passed along word this morning that Carlos Zambrano is leaning towards retirement after 2012.  But as Buster Olney notes in his column today, Zambrano may have $19 million reasons to stick around for 2013:

He has an interesting player option that should be a heck of a big
carrot for him in the next couple of years. If Zambrano were to finish
in the top two in the Cy Young voting in 2011, or in the top four in
2012, then he has a $19 million player option that vests automatically.
Zambrano would have to hold his emotions and focus together for an
entire summer to make that happen, but he has great incentive to try, at
a time when a $19 million salary for a pitcher is something that has
become more and more difficult to obtain.

Longshot, I realize it. But as Olney also notes, Zambrano is 6-0 with a 1.59 ERA over his last eight starts. The skills are still there. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that he could throw together a really nice season.

And it wouldn’t have to be that nice. Sure, top two in the Cy Young voting in 2011 is a stretch, but top four in 2012 isn’t. Consider: Javier Vazquez was fourth in the 2009 Cy Young voting results. He got there on the power of ONE SECOND PLACE VOTE. You telling me that there isn’t one writer out there who if, say, Zambrano won 16 games by virtue of health and some good run support, wouldn’t throw him a vote if there is no clear pecking order (as was the case last year)?

Which, now that I think about it, is troubling as all hell.  One writer. One guy could be the difference between Zambrano retiring or the Cubs being on the hook for $19 million in 2013.  Yes, the whole point of the clause is reward good-but-not-necessarily-great pitching, but given some of the outlandish down-ballot awards voting we’ve seen in recent years, it’s possible that something fluky could happen and Zambrano could get his option even with a blah year.

I’ve mostly dismissed the arguments writers have made about not wanting to vote on awards for such reasons because I’ve never really thought it was likely for a vote or two to make such an impact (and because if the teams want to be stupid enough to let players make millions based on crazy baseball writer votes, God help them).

But then again, we’ve never had a team place such a large amount of money on a contract incentive that could be so easily attainable before either, and frankly, it gives me the willies.

Padres sign Jordan Lyles

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The Padres announced on Sunday that the club signed pitcher Jordan Lyles to a one-year major league contract with a club option for 2019. According to Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports, Lyles will earn $750,000 in 2018. Pitcher Travis Wood was designated for assignment to create room on the 40-man roster for Lyles.

Lyles, 27, had miserable results between the Rockies and Padres last season, compiling an aggregate 7.75 ERA with a 55/22 K/BB ratio over 69 2/3 innings. While he specifically gave up 24 earned runs in 23 innings across five starts with the Padres, it was a small sample. A full season at the pitcher-friendly Petco Park, as opposed to Colorado’s Coors Field, might help revitalize his career.

Wood, 30, went to the Padres at the non-waiver trade deadline from the Royals this past season. Overall, the lefty posted an aggregate 6.80 ERA with a 65/45 K/BB ratio in 94 innings. He’ll earn $6.5 million this season and has an $8 million mutual option with a $1 million buyout for 2019. So, the Padres are just eating $7.5 million minus the league minimum, assuming Wood latches on elsewhere.