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Cubs, Zambrano Agree on 1-Year Deal

By Benjy Lipsman in News on Feb 21, 2007 5:17PM

2007_02_sports_zambrano2.jpgIt looked like the Cubs and Carlos Zambrano were headed to a contentious arbitration hearing yesterday, but the two sides negotiated right up to the hearing's start time and came to an agreement on a 1-year, $12.4 million deal.

Zambrano had asked for $15.5 million, and the Cubs offered $11.025 million, so the deal was closer to the Cubs' price. Had the case gone to arbitration, the arbitrator would have decided between the two submitted salaries. Even if he had lost, he would have been awarded the largest contract ever in an arbitration hearing. Alfanso Soriano's $10 million deal last year remains the arbitration record. Of course, teams do everything they can to avoid arbitration — the Cubs' last hearing was Mark Grace's in 1993!

While the Cubs seem to have had the upper hand in the final numbers, Zambrano can earn another $2 million in incentives, including World Series MVP and top five in Cy Young Award balloting. Seems fair to us to actually make a player earn some of their salary.

With Zambrano's salary settled for 2007, there is still the unresolved matter concerning a long-term deal for the Cubs ace. Zambrano made headlines last week by stating that if a deal wasn't in place before opening day, he was bolting when he became a free agent.

He's expected to command around $18 million a year for 5 years or more, similar to Barry Zito's 7-year, $126 million deal. Are the Cubs willing to commit almost $100 million to Z? His performance and durability suggest they probably should if they have any hopes of winning a World Series anytime soon.

But Phil Rogers, the Tribune's baseball columnist, questions whether the Cubs shouldn't look to trade him, because they might end up with the better end of the deal. Just because the Mariners landed Randy Johnson for Mark Langston and then landed Freddy Garcia and Carlos Guillen for Johnson a year later doesn't mean that the Cubs should look to trade Zambrano. How many deals didn't work out? Sure, there is the risk of losing him to free agency for nothing in the fall. But if the Cubs have any hopes of seeing a return on their huge investments in 2007 they'd better keep him around for the whole season. If money was such an issue, then the Cubs would have been better off re-signing Zambrano first before going after the likes of Jason Marquis and Ted Lilly. When you've got an effective workhorse, do everything possible to retain him.

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