Cubs, Zambrano avoid arbitration with 1-year deal

Updated: February 20, 2007, 7:50 PM ET
Associated Press

MESA, Ariz. -- Carlos Zambrano and the Chicago Cubs agreed to a $12.4 million, one-year contract Tuesday, avoiding salary arbitration by striking the deal just before the scheduled hearing.

He would also earn bonuses for finishing among the top five in Cy Young Award voting, being named MVP of the World Series and League Championship Series, making the All-Star Game, winning the Gold Glove and the Silver Slugger award.

Starting Pitcher
Chicago Cubs

Profile
2006 SEASON STATISTICS
GM W L BB K ERA
33 16 7 115 210 3.41

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

"I feel good, ready to go," Zambrano said. "I'm ready to lead this team to the championship, to win in this city. The fans deserve us to go to the playoffs and to win for the city of Chicago. I'm here for that."

The Cubs have not been to the playoffs since 2003, when they were within five outs of reaching the World Series. Their last arbitration hearing was with Mark Grace in 1993.

"Our track record is in order," general manager Jim Hendry said.

Barely.

"There was no other case on the dockets at all like this," Hendry said. "From Day 1, when the filing numbers went in, it was like, 'Wow, this is a tough one.'"

The sides reached an agreement as they were walking to the room at the Phoenix hotel where the hearing was to be held. Now, they can focus on trying to work out a multiyear contract, which would likely be in the five-year range.

Zambrano told WGN-TV last week that he would leave as a free agent after the season if the Cubs didn't sign him to a long-term deal by opening day -- but he backed off a few days later. He did, however, reiterate that he won't negotiate during the season and wants to be paid on the level of left-hander Barry Zito, who got a $126 million, seven-year contract with San Francisco this offseason.

"I don't want to have a distraction during the season," Zambrano said. "But if something can happen after the season, why not?"

Hendry said, "He's always told me he wants to be here -- first preference and probably second preference. Why would [I], as a general manager, not want him on the ballclub. I don't think we'll be working on it tonight at dinner, but we're happy.

"I've known him since he was a kid and he's grown into a heck of a man."

A native of Venezuela, Zambrano signed with the Cubs as a non-drafted free agent in July 1997 and made his major league debut in 2001. The two-time All-Star is 64-42 with a 3.29 ERA.

"This is a good relationship between Jim Hendry and me," Zambrano said. "I think everybody's happy, as well."

Zambrano said Monday he was "85 to 90 percent" sure a deal would get done before the hearing. Cubs manager Lou Piniella predicted there would be an agreement, too.

"I don't think the club needs that, and neither does the player," Piniella said Tuesday afternoon.

Piniella said he attended one hearing -- when he was the New York Yankees' general manager in the late 1980s and third baseman Mike Pagliarulo went to arbitration -- and it was a "rough process." Piniella didn't present any arguments; he just listened. But he did offer a compromise after the hearing.

"After it was over, I told him, 'We'll split this thing before the awards are made because I think you're not going to be pleased with the outcome,'" Piniella recalled. "He chose not to, and I was right. I felt a little uncomfortable in there, to be honest."

Hendry said there was "never any animosity" during negotiations and there wasn't going to be any because of the hearing.

"There wasn't going to be any tearing down of Carlos Zambrano because, first of all, he's our best pitcher," he said. "I've got nothing bad to say to him. All I want him to do is win more games than he won last year. ... The person who was going to present our case had been told by me that was the way it was going to be."

The Cubs committed nearly $300 million to retain and bring in free agents before reaching an agreement with Zambrano. They re-signed third baseman Aramis Ramirez for $75 million over five years, and signed outfielder Alfonso Soriano to an eight-year, $136 million deal. They also brought in starting pitchers Ted Lilly and Jason Marquis.

Those moves came after they hired Piniella following a 96-loss season.


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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