Carlos Zambrano’s Legacy

HOWARD MEGDAL: If this is how it ends for Carlos Zambrano, I hope the focus won’t be on his contract. There was too much to like about him as a ballplayer.

To me, his display of emotion made for more entertaining viewing. With so many players, it is necessary to guess what might me going on psychologically- never with Zambrano. Was it the best way to compete? Hard to say- he has compiled an ERA+ of 123 as a starting pitcher, made three All Star teams, finished in the top five in Cy Young voting three times- who’s to say he’d have been as effective, all buttoned up?

And he has been a tremendous pitcher. Even last year, his ERA+ was 128, even though his once-hot fastball had cooled considerably. And give me a pitcher who can hit for entertainment- his OPS+ of 128 is better than every regular in the Met lineup besides Jose Reyes. Perhaps he wants to come play left field in New York?

He’s been a player of excess and of fun. Maybe that’s easy for me to say, when my favorite team’s success has never depended on him keeping his cool. But as a baseball fan, I will miss Carlos Zambrano when he stops playing.

MIKE SILVA: Isn’t it too early to talk about Carlos Zambrano’s Legacy? Normally a player has to be retired for us to eulogize his career. We may no longer see him in a Cubs uniform, but I am not sure we have seen the last of him in the big leagues.

Maybe Zambrano was meant to have this wild career. He flipped between the bullpen and rotation during his short minor league career, and during his first full big league season. He would notoriously have stretches of dominance, only to fall apart and look awful for equally long periods. He would often have a tale of two games. Virtually unhittable for 4-5 innings, and then couldn’t get anyone out. Of course, there were many great performances as well. Who can forget the no-hitter in Milwaukee versus a homeless Astros team during Hurricane Ike? There also might not be a better modern day hitting pitcher (career .241 batting average with 23 home runs) this side of Mike Hampton in the history of baseball. Zambrano was the rare hurler that made his presence known on the mound and at the plate.

There have been blowups with teammates, managers, umpires, and the front office. During his starts he would not just battle the opposing team, but just about everything around him, including himself. His emotions and temperament is what probably will ultimately give him the label of “good, not great, but could have been better” when his career is finally done. He can be summed up by his actions the last week. He gets bombed in Atlanta, emotionally walks away from the team, the Cubs put him on the disqualified list, and then today he talks about how he wants to stay with the team. Is that not a perfect example of schizophrenia?

Perhaps a change of scenery will help Zambrano. If the Cubs released him would you be surprised if the Yankees, Red Sox, or Phillies took a shot? It’s a low-risk/high reward situation any team could walk away from with financial impunity. A focused Zambrano could provide top of the rotation performance for scrap heap money. He might be an incredible bullpen arm down the stretch this year. What better value can you ask for?

I think the legacy of Carlos Zambrano is still in the process of being written. I don’t think it will include many more stories from his Chicago days. The Cubs and Zambrano have become a marriage that needs to end because of irreconcilable differences. It’s what’s best for both sides going forward. That doesn’t mean 29 other teams can’t give a Zambrano union a whirl. I also think Carlos Zambrano wouldn’t mind that either.

CHRIS PUMMER: Finished or not, Zambrano’s best days have long been over. That means it’s quite likely his legacy as lunatic is cemented.

There’s no doubting the potential Big Z flashed as a dominant pitcher in his early-to-mid 20s, when he combined with Kerry Wood and Mark Prior to help lift the Cubs to a playoff appearance in 2003. Even after his walk rate climbed, more home runs went over the fence and time was missed from various injuries in his late 20s, the victories and strikeouts that piled up on his stat sheet made him the face of two more playoff teams in Chicago.

Unfortunately for Zambrano, his ill-timed emotional troubles and huge contract have also made him the face of the Cubs’ recent failures. Just like Sammy Sosa’s prima dona act wore thin in 2004 when there were real expectations unmet.

If last weekend’s public meltdown was Zambrano’s last, it wouldn’t even rank among the very best or worst, depending on how you want to look at it. His fistfight with teammate Michael Barrett would probably top the list. Or maybe his fight with Derrick Lee. Or you could pick an Opening Day disaster. There was more than one, even as the Cubs came back and won a couple of those.

Zambrano is still a Major League pitcher. Even if he’s toxic for the Cubs, another team will take a chance (while the Cubs write the paychecks). There’s plenty of reason to think he can still get hitters out, even if he’s not the ace he was from 2003 until about 2007.

There’s probably not much doubt we’ll never know how good Zambrano could have been if he’d been able to keep those emotions in check. It’s one of those qualities without an exact measurement, which means we try to shy away from it until after the fact.

Maybe it was that fire that made Zambrano so good to begin with. Even if we acknowledge that, we have to also admit that it’s what has made him burn out so quickly.

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