Carlos Zambrano wants to pitch, but not if he pitches like he did in 2009. Which is unfortunate, because that's almost exactly what's going to happen in 2010. We guess this means (an early) goodbye?
That ultimatum is what Zambrano gave himself Sunday. When asked about his potential retirement -- Zambrano mentioned earlier this season that he might consider retiring early and spending time with his family -- Big Z took his self-analysis one further. If he has another year like he did in 2009, he won't be back after 2010:
"It's been a disappointing season," Big Z said when asked about his season. "People say, 'Why can't you pitch like that all the time?' It's not all the time I feel like that."
"Look, this is the only season I haven't won 16 or 18 or 14 games," he said to the Tribune. "If it happens again next season, two seasons in a row, I'll quit. Believe me, I'll quit. I just have to put this behind me.
Do we believe Big Z? Not really. We think he'll be back in 2010 even if he pitches worse than in 2009. This is how professional athletes are: They rage against the dying of the light, even when the light doesn't seem all that much fun anymore. Also, they get paid millions and millions of dollars. That's a nice little motivating factor, too.
But Zambrano is a tiny bit unhinged, and if he's crazy enough to stay true to his word, it likely means he won't be back in 2011. Why? Because Zambrano's statistics in 2009 are much the same as they've been for most of his career, especially the latter portions. He really didn't pitch all that much worse this season than he did in 2008.
The only difference is that the Cubs were winning in 2008; their offense was better, so Zambrano didn't need to pitch all that well to win 14 games. (Zambrano's WHIP was a full tenth of a point higher in 2009, which is not good news, but it's right about where his WHIP was in 2007, when Zambrano won 18 games.) Wins are largely a function of the team. If the Cubs are as mediocre in 2010 as they were in 2009, Zambrano will go down his stats and see much the same. And then, barring a change of mind, he'll retire. Pretty simple stuff.
That's only if Zambrano means what he says. We doubt he does. But if so, 2010 will be his last year in a Cubs uniform. We've got that one on the record, Carlos.
Eamonn Brennan is a Chicago-based writer, editor and blogger. You can also read him at Yahoo! Sports, Mouthpiece Sports Blog, and Inside The Hall, or at his personal site, eamonnbrennan.com. Follow him on Twitter.