Cubs' Zambrano backs off threat to leave club

Updated: February 15, 2007, 8:58 PM ET
Associated Press

MESA, Ariz. -- Carlos Zambrano backed off recent comments that he would leave the Chicago Cubs as a free agent after this season if he doesn't get a multiyear contract during spring training.

What's at stake?
Carlos Zambrano
Carlos Zambrano and the Cubs are scheduled to go to arbitration Tuesday. The Cubs' ace is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2007 season.

Arbitration figures for '07:
• Zambrano wants $15.5M
• Cubs offering $11.025M

What's he worth on open market?
In current market, a lot. Barry Zito signed a seven-year, $126 million contract with the Giants this offseason. Zambrano, 25, more of a power pitcher than Zito, is three years younger and boasts two straight 200-K seasons. Zito has just one season of more than 200 Ks.

Although he would rather get a new deal done by Opening Day, the pitcher said Thursday he would be willing to negotiate next fall. He won't discuss a contract during the season, though.

"They have the first look," Zambrano said after the club's initial workout for pitchers and catchers. "I didn't say that if they don't sign me before the end of spring training I will not sign with the Cubs. I didn't say that. I just said they have 'til the beginning of the season; if not, I don't want to talk about [a] contract during the season."

But in an interview with WGN-TV this week, the Cubs' ace was adamant that he would leave as a free agent if he didn't have a multiyear contract by the opener.

"I want to sign with the Cubs before the season starts," he told the TV station. "If they don't sign me, sorry, but I must go. That's what Carlos Zambrano thinks."

Zambrano, who has an arbitration hearing scheduled for Tuesday, is seeking a deal similar to the seven-year, $126 million contract Barry Zito signed with San Francisco this offseason. But the Cubs are more inclined to sign him for five years.

ESPN Radio: Peter Gammons
Peter Gammons
ESPN's Peter Gammons discusses the Zambrano salary issue, Mariano Rivera's deadline and all the latest spring training news. Listen.

Whether he signs a long-term contract this spring or not, Zambrano will get a big pay raise.

He earned $6.5 million last season while going 16-7 with a 3.41 ERA and 210 strikeouts, then asked for $15.5 million in arbitration. The team countered at $11,025,000, which is more than any player has been awarded.

"I want to stay here," Zambrano said. "I want to sign with the Cubs. I just don't want to talk about a contract during the season."

Zambrano, 25, watched as the Cubs went on a major spending spree during the offseason, committing about $296 million to acquire and retain free agents. Third baseman Aramis Ramirez re-signed for five years and $75 million -- a club record until Alfonso Soriano signed an eight-year, $136 million deal.

Born in Venezuela, Zambrano signed with the Cubs in July 1997 and made his major league debut in 2001. He is 46-21 the past three seasons.

"As a manager, obviously I want the best talent," manager Lou Piniella said. "Carlos is part of that equation, no question. A big part of it. Let's hope that they can work something out."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press