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.

Report: Teams reluctant to gamble on Cliff Lee

Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Cliff Lee throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park Thursday, July 31, 2014, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
AP Photo/Alex Brandon
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In Saturday’s column for the Boston Globe, Nick Cafardo suggests that free agent Cliff Lee is seeking a guaranteed major league deal between $6 and $8 million plus incentives. That is turning some otherwise interested teams away, as the lefty is still recovering from a torn flexor tendon in his left elbow. Lee hasn’t pitched since July 31, 2014.

Last month, Lee’s agent Darek Braunecker said the pitcher would need “a perfect fit” to pitch in 2016. He also noted that Lee has begun a full offseason throwing program.

In his most recent season, Lee compiled a 3.65 ERA with 72 strikeouts and 12 walks in 81 1/3 innings for the Phillies. The Phillies had signed him to a five-year, $120 million contract in December 2010 but declined a club option for the 2016 season, instead buying him out for $12.5 million.

Orioles reconsidering signing Yovani Gallardo

Yovani Gallardo
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
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In an article for MASN on Friday, Steve Melewski noted that the Orioles were reluctant to forfeit their first round draft pick (14th overall) in order to sign free agent starter Yovani Gallardo. The club is now reconsidering its stance and rechecking the right-handers medicals, MASN’s Roch Kubatko reports.

Gallardo, who turns 30 on February 27, posted a 3.42 ERA with 121 strikeouts and 68 walks over 184 1/3 innings for the Rangers last season. The Rangers had acquired him in a trade with the Brewers, sending Luis Sardinas, Corey Knebel, and minor leaguer Marcos Diplan to Milwaukee.

Gallardo has posted an ERA below 4.00 in six of his last seven seasons. He remains unsigned into February, however, because his strikeout rate has rapidly decreased with each year since 2012. Per FanGraphs, that rate was 23.7 percent in 2012, then went to 18.6 percent, 17.9 percent, and 15.3 percent progressively. Some of that may have to do with diminishing fastball velocity, as Gallardo’s 90.4 MPH average marked a career low among his eight full seasons with at least 100 innings pitched.

The Orioles lost starter Wei-Yin Chen, who signed with the Marlins, and the back end of their rotation is highly speculative with Kevin Gausman, Mike Wright, Odrisamer Despaigne, and Tyler Wilson. Adding a veteran like Gallardo, even if he is apparently declining, may be stabilizing.

Freddy Garcia is calling it a career

Screenshot 2016-02-07 at 10.16.43 AM
Elsa/Getty Images North America
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MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez passes along word from the Dominican Republic that right-hander Freddy Garcia will hang up his cleats for good after Sunday’s Caribbean Series championship game.

Garcia will start that game for the Tigres de Aragua out of Venezuela. He’s taking on Mexico’s Venados de Mazatlan.

“Venezuelan fans are expecting something good from Freddy and so is everybody,” said Tigres de Aragua manager Eddie Perez, who also serves as the bullpen coach for the Atlanta Braves. “Knowing that it’s his last game is going to make it very special. We all hope he pitches a really good game so he can retire in a good way and bring the title for Venezuela. Everybody who is rooting for Venezuela expects him to do well.”

Garcia’s last major league game was in the 2013 postseason. The 39-year-0ld will finish with a 4.15 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and 6.4 K/9 in 2,264 career regular-season innings. He had a 3.26 ERA in 11 playoff starts, winning a World Series title with the White Sox in 2005.

Video: 2016 will be a season to remember

Carlos+Correa+Houston+Astros+v+Arizona+Diamondbacks+Ctyu5RiU3SWl
Christian Petersen/Getty Images North America
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MLB.com put together this very cool video montage reviewing the 2015 season and setting us up for what should be a wild 2016. Young stars, veterans chasing milestones, unpredictable divisional races.

It’s so close to spring training. Let’s do this.