Friday, August 17, 2007

Zambrano signs; Cubs back in first

It seems like the Cubs may have paid a little extra to keep Zambrano, but that's what needed to be done.

Carlos Zambrano had given the team the Opening Day deadline to sign him to a multi-year contract. When that fell through, it looked like the Cubs ace was going to test the free agent market at the end of the year. In the open market, Zambrano would've surely brought interest from many teams and signed a record deal.

The big right hander still signed a record deal, but he will remain a Cub until at least the end of the 2012. His 5-year, $91.5M contract (includes $5M signing bonus) is the most any pitcher has been paid per year in a multi-year contract, but it's not unreasonable to assume that the Red Sox or Yankees would've been willing to go even higher. Salary arbitration had kept his salary down for the most part, but after punching in six years of Major League experience, the ace pitcher is now rolling in the big money.

A 13-11 season in 2003 gave Zambrano a $450,000 contract for the next year. Then a 16-8 season with a 2.75 ERA in 2004 only bumped his pay for the next year up to $3.8M. A 14-6 season the year after allowed him to earn $6.5M for 2006. He led the league in wins last year, but still received a measly salary when comparing to other pitchers of his caliber: $12.4M for this year. Now Zambrano, who looks to be on his way to setting a new career high in wins, will get $15M next year followed by at least $17.75M in each of the four years afterwards.

It's hard to tell whether or not Zambrano would've been cheaper in April. After all, the arbitration figure he submitted at the beginning of this year was $15.5M -- and that was just for the 2007 season. Nonetheless, the deal needed to get done and I'm glad that the Tribune Company, Sam Zell, and Jim Hendry were able to set aside their differences to ink him to this type of a long-term deal.

Jim Hendry committed a lot of money beyond the 2007 season last winter, but this team still has its fair share of holes. The Cubs may be able to plug some of these holes this off-season, but losing Carlos Zambrano to free agency would not have been replaceable, making the rest of the ludicrous salaries seem like a waste.

For starters, Alfonso Soriano is going to be paid up to $18M per year until 2014. Derrek Lee will make $13M annually until 2010 and Aramis Ramirez will be owed nearly $16M per year until 2010. Lilly, DeRosa, Marquis, Jones, Howry, and Dempster are all signed beyond the 2007 season and salary arbitration will keep Marmol, Hill, and Marshall with the Cubs until further notice. The team has most of its major pieces returning for the 2008 season and Zambrano at the top of the rotation makes the team just so much stronger.

Hill dominates: It looks like Rich Hill read my blog post from yesterday. With the bullpen short after yesterday's game, the team needed a deep start from the young left-hander and he delievered. Being backed by only a two-run shot by Jacque Jones, Rich Hill was able to make that stick up, tossing seven innings of three-hit ball before giving way to Howry and Dempster.

The Cubs win puts them at 62-59 and now in sole possession of first place after the Brewers fell to the Reds. Today's win over the Cardinals also did many more things. Not only did that re-create a three-game separation between the two teams, but it guaranteed that the Cubs would not be behind the Cardinals at the end of the series and opened the door to the very real possibility of taking three out of four.

The last time the Cubs snapped a four-game losing streak, they won two games before hitting the recently-broken four-game skid. Hopefully, this winning streak can last longer than two.

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