The Cubs are stuck. They have a bunch of aging, injured, underachieving veterans signed to expensive long-term deals. Meanwhile, Cubs starter Rich Harden is a free agent this offseason, and if the Cubs want to retain him, they'll have to dip into the pocketbook yet again.
Which brings us to Carlos Zambrano. According to Stu Courtney of the Chicago Sun-Times, the Cubs are having internal discussions about trading Zambrano in the offseason. From Courtney's piece:
Would unloading Zambrano be addition by subtraction? A report this week claimed the Cubs plan to shop Zambrano during the offseason, believing he might be willing to waive his no-trade clause, in part to get a fresh start away from the media's glare.
That's good rumor mill grist right there, so let's play along.
If the Cubs are considering trading Zambrano, they've waited too long to do it in 2009. Big Z used to be much-desired around the league, but after a few workhorse seasons and a few extra years lopped off his biological clock -- not to mention decreasing productivity and increasing injuries -- his value's as low as it's ever been. Why trade him now? What would you get in return?
Instead, the Cubs should wait until the beginning of 2010. It's a gamble, but a healthier, rested Zambrano could start his 2010 season hot, and the Cubs could lure a team thinking about the World Series to deal some legitimate talent in return. Zambrano isn't an elite ace anymore, but as a good team's second or third pitcher, he'd be just fine.
Which is why the Cubs are at a crossroads. They can either try to trade Zambrano and rebuild the pitching staff from scratch or keep him around as a second or third wheel in a free agency-splurge starting line. Zambrano isn't an ace anymore, and hoping he will be for a full season is almost as futile as hoping he'll stop running so hard to first base. Acceptance -- of back injuries, belly fat, and blowups -- is the first step in being a Carlos Zambrano fan.
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.