Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Z ya later?

The Chicago Tribune's Paul Sullivan stated that the Cubs "plan on shopping" Carlos Zambrano this offseason. Big Z has three years and about $53 million remaining on his contract, along with a possible player option for 2013. He also has a no-trade clause.

I say: shop away. Zambrano's $18.75 million annual salary is ninth in baseball and second only to Johan Santana among pitchers. He's paid like a top tier, top notch starter who deserves to be at the top of one of the top rotations in baseball. And while his numbers are consistently good, they're not that good.

The knock on Z is generally his inability to pile up wins or have that dominant 20-win season, but his wins have actually ranked pretty highly over the last few years:

Year------W------MLB rank

But we all know how misleading wins and losses can be. Case in point: Clayton Kershaw is 11th in the majors with a sparkling 2.89 ERA, and has just eight wins to show for it; Ricky Nolasco is last among qualifying starting pitchers with his gaudy 5.46 ERA--he's got 11 wins.

Let's look at how Zambrano has stacked up in ERA and innings pitched in recent years:

Year--------ERA------MLB rank

Year--------IP--------MLB rank

Again, these numbers aren't bad at all. He finished in the top 25 in innings pitched twice in the last four years, had the eighth best ERA in the majors in 2006, and has never in his career finished a full season with an ERA over four.

However, each of those rankings that are over 30 scare me. Ranking outside the top 30 essentially means that on average, every team in the majors has a pitcher who's outperforming you. The fact that the Cubs' so-called "horse" has ranked 53rd and 82nd, respectively, in innings pitched the last two years doesn't exactly make you thrilled that he's making over $500,000 every time he takes the mound. His ERA over the last three years has been solid, no doubt, but has not ranked in the top 30 in any of those seasons.

Let me remind you: he's making over $18 million a year. That's more than CC Sabathia, more than Cliff Lee, more than Chris Carpenter ... you get the idea.

I haven't even mentioned his tendency to get tossed from games, his recent admission that he isn't exactly 100 percent committed to his workout regimen, and his propensity to lose his cool when things don't go his way on the mound.

And look at what some top pitchers have netted teams in recent years (with an assist to Jerry Crasnick at ESPN):

2002: Indians trade Bartolo Colon and Tim Drew to Montreal for Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore, Brandon Phillips and Lee Stevens.

Sizemore has made three All-Star teams and won two Gold Gloves, and Cliff Lee's been, you know, okay. They shipped Phillips to the Reds, but he's averaged 21 HR and 84 RBI in five seasons in the majors.

2004: Oakland sends Mark Mulder to St. Louis for Dan Haren, Kiko Calero and Daric Barton.

Billy Beane got the better pitcher, though he traded Haren to Arizona three years later. Haren is 13-8 with a 2.82 ERA this season. Kiko Calero had a couple good years out of the 'pen, and Barton hasn't proven himself at the major league level yet, but is still just 24 years old.

2008: Baltimore sends Erik Bedard to Seattle for outfielder Adam Jones and pitchers George Sherrill, Chris Tillman, Kam Mickolio and Tony Butler.

Jones made the All-Star team this year at age 23, Sherrill had enough success as closer that the Dodgers traded for him at this year's trade deadline, and Tillman has had a great season at Triple-A.

These trades don't always work out (see: Tim Hudson's trade to Atlanta in 2004), but GMs are often willing to overpay for an ace, or even a perceived one. There's no question that Zambrano would have to bring quite a haul to make it worth Jim Hendry's while, but there's nothing wrong with window shopping.

Look, the Cubs could do a lot worse than Carlos Zambrano at the top of their rotation. And if the bell rings for the 2010 season and Big Z is on the mound in Atlanta (where the Cubs will play the Braves on Opening Day), I won't have a problem with that. But Z is a sometimes a joker, often a king, and too rarely an ace. If Hendry can obtain a king's ransom for him and open up some room in the payroll for, say, a second baseman, I wouldn't be opposed.

Worst deadline pickup?

That would be Jarrod Washburn. Acquired by the Tigers at the deadline from the Mariners, the lefty struggled in six August starts, going 1-2 with a 6.81 ERA. September hasn't been much better for the veteran, as he allowed three earned runs in five innings against the Royals and then, with an opportunity to redeem himself against the AL's worst team, he allowed four runs in just one inning of work yesterday.

To sum up: 2.64 ERA with the Mariners, 7.33 ERA with the Tigers.

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