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Cubs Could Trade Zambrano

Of all the disappointing teams across the major leagues this year, few -- if any -- have been more striking than the Chicago Cubs. Prohibitive NL Central favorites at the start of the season, the Cubs will be sitting at home during the playoffs in October, heading into a 102nd season without a championship despite a handful of offseason moves that were expected to add depth to a team that was easily the NL's best during the 2008 regular season.

So what went wrong? Too many things to count, but ace Carlos Zambrano was among them. The mercurial power pitcher -- who tossed a no-hitter against the Astros in Milwaukee a year ago -- descended into full meltdown mode in Chicago. After a season in which he's a modest 8-6, has spent time on the DL at two different stages of the season and was even suspended for six games, Zambrano could well be the man who gives way in the offseason as Chicago searches for a way to gain more payroll flexibility.

At least that's the story coming out of the Chicago Tribune, in which reporter Paul Sullivan cites unnamed sources claiming that the Cubs are planning to shop Carlos Zambrano across the major leagues this winter.

There's a reason why Zambrano would be the man to go if Chicago deals a starter. The team is due to lose Rich Harden to free agency (unless they can find a way to re-sign him), and losing another power arm from the rotation isn't exactly the way a franchise moves back up the divisional pecking order. Then again, Zambrano's deal isn't a run of the mill contract for a starter. "Big Z" is due nearly $93 million across the next four years, assuming his 2013 vesting player option kicks in. That's a lot of money to free up, and for $18-odd million a year, the Cubs could probably bring in a lot more productivity than they're getting from Zambrano.

As ever, there are a number of complicating factors behind any potential Zambrano deal. Despite recent noises from the pitcher himself, citing a desire to pitch in a place with less media scrutiny next year, Zambrano does hold a full no-trade clause in his contract, and throughout his past, he's claimed that he would exercise such a condition if the Cubs did send him somewhere. Additionally, even if the Cubs could find a taker for all the backloaded money on Zambrano's deal, it's questionable whether incoming team owner Tom Ricketts would be willing to trade off a popular, outspoken player so shortly after assuming control of the team.

Whether or not the Cubs actually deal Zambrano, the mere mention of such a possibility is a stark departure from the stability and depth the team's rotation appeared to have entering the 2009 season. That, as much as anything else, just highlights how far the organization has fallen in a single season. Maybe the Cubs really will bounce back next year with most of the same contributors, but a trade of Zambrano could signify a shift ... and potentially a whole new rebuilding phase for a franchise that has known far too many of them.

By Cameron Smith  |  September 16, 2009; 1:28 PM ET
Categories:  Cubs  | Tags: Carlos Zambrano, Cubs, trade  
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