The Cubs' rather stiff 30-day penalty for embattled pitcher Carlos Zambrano will be contested fiercely by his representatives in a grievance process that began Monday with a filing by the Players Association on his behalf. But there is one thing both sides seem likely to agree on: It is time for a new team for Big Z.
Zambrano says he wants to remain a Cub, which amounts to nothing more than window dressing after he's already smashed the glass clear through. "Of course he's saying that,'' one management person said. "He's got a lot of money at stake.'' (It's $3 million, technically, since that's the loot he'd lose with a 30-day ban, if upheld.)
Comments from Cubs teammates and management following Zambrano's latest blowup strongly indicate that it's time for him to move on. Both Alfonso Soriano and Aramis Ramirez spoke about Zambrano's continuing inability to control his emotions, and Marlon Byrd told the
The Cubs tried hard to trade Zambrano before the July 31 deadline, offering to pay the vast majority of a contract that calls for him to make $18 million next season, a lot more than his tired arm is worth. They hoped the Yankees might bite. But alas, the Yankees' new pitching coach happens to be Larry Rothschild, who held the same role with the Cubs and has seen Zambrano up close.
The pitcher's latest tantrum took place last Friday night in Atlanta. After allowing five home runs, Zambrano aimed two pitches at Cooperstown-bound Chipper Jones, was ejected, and then told teammates he was retiring. Then came the big indiscretion: Zambrano cleaned out the locker while the game was still going on, a move not received kindly by the team. Zambrano had his buddy Tommy Miranda return his belongings back to the cubbyhole a couple hours after he removed them. But by then, the camel's back was broken. Teammates were questioning him for his latest outburst and team management reacted sternly.
"He's obviously remorseful,'' one Zambrano confidant said. "He had no intention of retiring. He's down on himself.''
At the same time, even his supporters understand the history is long and full off issues. They know it's time for a fresh start elsewhere.
"He needs a new environment,'' the supporter said.
There is some question how quickly teams will line up to take on the temperamental fading star, whose 4.82 ERA this year is the highest of his career. While he's never been in real trouble off the field, there have been a number of incidents involving the club and clubhouse over the years which may make teams question whether he is worth it now that he is no longer a top-of-the-rotation starter.
One such incident occurred just last year, when Zambrano went on a tirade in the dugout, was sent home during the game and later suspended by the team and underwent anger management counseling.
One rival GM said Zambrano is a No. 4 starter, and while that is quite a comedown for him, the need would seem to be great enough around baseball for a starting pitcher that someone will take a chance. But is he worth it?
First comes the little matter of the 30-day placement on the disqualified list by the team, which amounts to a $3 million fine. Zambrano's supporters are hoping for a quick grievance because they believe the ban should be a lot shorter than 30 days. But unfortunately for him, the grievance was filed on amateur signing day and the owners' meetings are this week, pushing the conversations back a couple days.
Once they get talking, Zambrano has a case, no matter how bad a boy he's been. The Cubs once withheld one day's pay from Sammy Sosa for leaving a game after 15 minutes. Sosa was still eligible to be put into the game when he left, making it worse. That penalty, levied after the final game of a season and the final one of Sosa's Cubs career, amounted to $87,000, a penalty Sosa's agent Adam Katz called "severe'' at the time.
The question is whether 30 days is the right penalty for leaving early. Zambrano told CSN Chicago he was wrong for doing that, though he wouldn't own up to throwing at Jones, which seemed pretty obvious to both the Braves and Cubs (and everyone else).
In any case, once the issue of the punishment has been resolved, the Cubs need to do what's really necessary here. And that is to swallow hard, take the financial hit, and let Zambrano go.
Longtime Cubs general manager Jim Hendry is said by many people connected to the Cubs to have a good rapport and the respect of relatively new owner Tom Ricketts. And several reports, including one here, suggested Hendry is probably safe because of that.
But, apparently, that is far from a certainty. While Ricketts has spoken positively about Hendry to some other owners, Hendry, in his ninth year at the helm, is said by people familiar with the situation to be "at risk'' of losing his job.
There is no evidence that something has changed or that the Zambrano case is the key to Hendry's tenuous situation. It just may be a simple matter of others misreading nice comments regarding Hendry as proof that he would stay. That doesn't necessarily appear to be the case now.
The Cubs are in their second straight disappointing year. They have had some bad moments, which can't help (before the latest Zambrano blowup, there was also Milton Bradley, and then Carlos Silva, the man Bradley was traded for). There also have been some very bad contracts, including the $136 million for Soriano, who still has more than $50 million to go, and $30 million for Bradley, who had one disappointing year before being traded, and Fukudome, who got $44 million and barely made a ripple before he was traded to the Indians last month. To be fair, it is sometimes hard to know what higher-up signed off on all those deals.
The Hendry ledger is better than most would think, with five winning seasons in nine years and some great moments -- from the near NLCS win in 2003 and baseball's best regular-season record only three years ago. The farm system also is in better shape than it's been, with some homegrown players like Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney already starring.
But the Cubs have been fading since Ricketts acquired the team a couple years ago.
Ricketts is said to be a cautious man, and someone who likes the personable Hendry very much. Some close to him have thought Hendry would stay. But that doesn't appear to be assured now.
Logan Morrison's demotion to Triple-A New Orleans is shocking in that he has 18 home runs and 60 RBIs for the Marlins this year and has generally been one of the more positive developments in a difficult season for Florida.
Marlins people told the popular and productive Morrison, upon demoting him Saturday, that they want to see him hit better than .249. And one Marlins management person said publicly he wanted to see Morrison "work on all aspects of being a major leaguer.'' That means the team is at odds with him over a few things, not all of them related to his batting average.
Marlins people declined to comment further on the sticky matter. But according to people with connections to the team, the real, unstated reason for the demotion is that that Marlins management, including manager Jack McKeon, believes Morrison needs to show more maturity. Sources suggest they believe Morrison is too outspoken -- though, the issue may be more about the Marlins' standards for outspokenness. True to form, the Marlins remain characteristically unspoken; they haven't said publicly what the issue is.
Demotions are usually tied to on-field performance, so by suggesting to him it's about the .249 batting average, the Marlins avoid any backtalk from the player's camp. But enough has come out for Morrison to get the hint that there is likely much more to this story.
Morrison was said to be devastated upon his demotion, but doing better now, and while the union was consulted, it appears he will not file a grievance. If one of the team's complaints is that he is uncooperative, it probably is not worth a fight with management that's unlikely to be won without evidence. Considering his talent and the lack of a major off-field issue, it seems unlikely he'd stay with the Zephyrs too long, anyway.
Much of the issue in fact, appears to be over charity. Morrison, 23, has been very active about his lung cancer charity after the tragic death of his father, Tom, a non-smoker, at 51 last December.
The team may see Morrison as not being as cooperative as they'd like. But if a lot of this stems from his enthusiasm over his charity, it's easy to see why the team doesn't want to talk about it. While the team has coddled the child-like and often-petulant superstar Hanley Ramirez ("When push comes to shove, it seems like Hanley wins 100 times out of 100,'' one Marlins observer noted), it would be hard to explain that their charitable young player is a problem to them.
Morrison is said by people close to him to have been very unhappy with what he perceived as a lack of support by the team for a charity bowling tournament of his that was eventually canceled. Then in the days after the cancellation, Morrison upset the team by declining to attend a meet-and-greet session with season ticket holders. Morrison was advised by team rep Wes Helms, who did attend, that it wasn't mandatory he show up. Helms apparently offered this opinion to Morrison in front of team officials, upsetting them.
The next day Morrison was demoted and Helms released. The timing following the Helms-Morrison conversation was first pointed out by Joe Capozzi of the
There were a couple other things, although none of it seems all that bad. Morrison had a disagreement with Ramirez that started when Ramirez caught some flak earlier this season for not signing Morrison's leg cast, which he was auctioning off for his charity. Morrison and Ramirez had it out behind closed doors, but the disagreement apparently leaked out to the press.
Morrison also spoke out publicly against the firing of hitting coach John Mallee earlier this year, which, according to sources, also annoyed team higher-ups. The team may have extra sensitivity about a firing reputation, as team owner Jeffrey Loria has canned Joe Girardi and Fredi Gonzalez, two managers who were later snapped up by the Yankees and Braves, respectively.
There has been speculation Morrison's outspokenness on Twitter also may have annoyed some team officials, and Morrison's avatar on his account @LoMoMarlins has had a "CENSORED'' plastered over his mouth since shortly after McKeon took over in June. The old-school McKeon, 80, made a joke earlier upon hearing about Morrison going home to play with Twitter, saying he thought Twitter was his dog's name. Moreover, McKeon and other club people don't seem to have embraced Morrison's great Twitter popularity (he has 64,000 followers, which dwarfs the Marlins' nightly attendance).
If the Marlins want Morrison to contain his outspokenness, they should tell him that rather than point to the .249 batting average.
In any case, it's a costly lesson for Morrison -- assuming that is indeed the team's lesson.
The Rangers and Red Sox seemed to be seriously considering Bell but decided against it after he sent a letter to all the teams saying he was truly committed to the University of Texas. But the Pirates, who've sometimes erred on the conservative side in past drafts (Daniel Moskos, Tony Sanchez), made the winning play this time, landing Bell with the biggest bonus ever for a second rounder.
It's funny that team president Frank Coonelly was a slot meister when he worked for the commissioner's office and is now anything but.
The Pirates still need the talent infusion ("Jameson Taillon is a stud but the rest of their minor league talent is overrated,'' one opposing GM opined), but GM Neal Huntington, whose contract runs out after the year, probably secured a new contract of his own with the big day.
Padres people describe Hedges as a terrific defender (and he is), but he hasn't yet shown big offensive ability; he still got $3 million. Plus, University of Kentucky pitcher Alex Meyer got $2 million from the Nationals and Stanford pitcher Chris Reed got $1.589 million from the Dodgers.
The multitalented Starling gave up a Nebraska quarterback offer, but he is a Kansan, after all, and he won't be hit nearly as much playing baseball. Rendon didn't suffer much for dropping down to No. 6 on draft day, either.
But Hultzen's deal, which includes the perks of being on the 40-man roster, was still excellent and can be worth up to $10.6 million if he's in the majors soon. Van Wagenen burnished an increasingly glowing rep here.
• The Cubs are willing to pay the bulk of Alfonso Soriano's money (he has $50 million plus remaining) if someone would take him in trade. Soriano, who has cleared waivers, looks like he needs to go to the American League -- if not immediately, then by next year -- because he's basically just a DH and there isn't too much demand for one right now. One team that could possibly use a hitter and has a bit of money is the Indians but a deal seems like a stretch.
• The Twins look like they are in the mood for a possible shakeup in their disappointing, injury-filled season. Jason Kubel, who makes $5.25 million with a $350,000 buyout, according to Cot's Baseball contracts, hadn't been placed on waivers as of a couple days ago, but other teams are waiting and hoping. He'd be of interest. The Twins seem like they'd like to lock up Michael Cuddyer, who is a free agent at year's end.
• The Red Sox are encouraged by some better stuff being shown by John Lackey. The issue of their No. 3 starter seems to be their biggest concern heading toward the playoffs.
• Jorge Posada, who turned 40 today, won't be released by the Yankees, but his playoff spot may depend on how he performs through the rest of the year. Top prospect Jesus Montero is expected to be promoted Sept. 1, when rosters expand, but because of some flexibility due to injuries, Montero would still be eligible for the playoff roster.
• It will be interesting to see if the hiccup in approval for Jim Crane to become Astros owner spares their current regime of GM Ed Wade and manager Brad Mills.
Mills at least led the team to a surprisingly nice finish last year. But the team's 38-84 record this season is one of the four worst over the past four decades, as pointed out by Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com.
Part of the issue, of course, has been current owner Drayton McLane's insistence on sticking to slot money for draftees. When the team traded its two stars, Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn, there was nothing to supplement the roster.
• The owners meetings start today in Cooperstown, and some owners are bracing or a tongue lashing from commissioner Bud Selig for going over slot. A hard slotting system is Selig's pet issue during these CBA negotiations -- though most observers don't believe the union will agree to what they would see as a "capping'' of salaries, even for incoming players.
• Congrats to Jim Thome on his 600th home run. Though there will be debate, he is assured of being a Hall of Famer.