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.

José Ramirez’s 17-pitch at-bat kickstarts Indians’ five-run comeback in ninth inning

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With his team trailing 8-3 to begin the bottom of the ninth inning of Sunday’s game against the Astros, Indians third baseman José Ramirez eventually won a 17-pitch at-bat against closer Ken Giles, ripping a double off of the wall in right field. The Indians would go on to score five runs on seven hits to tie the game against Giles and Hector Rondon. Ramirez almost won the game in his second at-bat of the ninth inning, but first basebamn Yuli Gurriel made a terrific diving catch on a line drive otherwise headed for the right field corner.

Giants first baseman Brandon Belt set a new modern record for the longest at-bat last month, seeing 21 pitches against the Angels’ Jaime Barria. The Astros’ Ricky Gutierrez sfaw 20 pitches from the Indians’ Bartolo Colon on June 26, 1998, which was the previous record. Kevin Bass saw 19 pitches from the Phillies’ Steve Bedrosian in 1988. There have also been five 18-pitch at-bats from Brian Downing, Bip Roberts, Alex Cora, Adam Kennedy, and Marcus Semien.

Sunday’s game wound up going 14 innings. The Astros pulled ahead 9-8 in the top of the 13th on a solo home run from Evan Gattis. However, the Indians’ Yonder Alonso responded with a solo shot of his own in the bottom of the 13th to re-knot the game at 9-9. Greg Allen then lifted a walk-off solo homer in the bottom of the 14th to give the Indians a 10-9 win.

After Sunday’s effort, Ramirez is batting .292/.389/.605 with 15 home runs, 37 RBI, 34 runs scored, and seven stolen bases. According to FanGraphs, his 3.5 Wins Above Replacement ranks third across baseball behind Mike Trout (4.4) and Mookie Betts (4.1). They’re the only players at three wins or above.