Zambrano deal for five years, $91.5 million in Chicago
CHICAGO -- Carlos Zambrano's long wait paid off. The Chicago Cubs' talented and emotional ace agreed Friday to a $91.5 million, five-year contract extension that features a 2013 option that could make the deal worth $110.75 million over six seasons.
Zambrano skipped a shot at free agency and its lucrative payday to stay with the only club he's ever known.
"Not everything is about money, you know," Zambrano said. "I know if I got to free agency there were a lot of things that would come to me and offer me. I feel comfortable here. I feel good here and my family feels good here."
The 26-year-old righty, a two-time All-Star, is 14-9 with a 3.86 ERA this season and 78-51 in his big league career. His deal's $18.3 million average annual value is the highest for a pitcher with a multiyear contract and No. 5 overall behind Roger Clemens ($28 million), Alex Rodriguez ($25.2 million), Manny Ramirez ($20 million) and Derek Jeter ($18.9 million).
Zambrano had hoped to have a new deal in place by Opening Day. He extended that deadline but contract talks stalled after Tribune Co., which owns the team, announced in April that it was selling itself for $8.2 billion to Chicago real estate mogul Sam Zell. The Cubs are expected to go on the auction block at the end of the season.
"We were within earshot of this thing, completing a deal near Opening Day. But due to the sale of the Tribune, it changed everything," said Zambrano's agent, Barry Praver. "The one thing that did remain constant was Carlos' burning desire to remain a Cub."
Zambrano may have gotten more on the open market from a big spender but he didn't fare poorly in his new deal with the Cubs.
He has a full no-trade clause and gets a $5 million signing bonus. If he finishes first or second in Cy Young Award voting in 2011 or finishes in the top four in Cy Young balloting in 2012 and is healthy at the end of the fifth year, he has the option for a sixth year at $19.25 million.
He will make $15 million next season, $17.75 million in 2009, $17,875,000 in each of the following two seasons and $18 million in 2012.
"It's not too often that one player can play his whole career with one organization, and Carlos has a chance to do that," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said.
Not everything is about money, you know. I know if I got to free agency there were a lot of things that would come to me and offer me. I feel comfortable here. I feel good here and my family feels good here.
"Carlos certainly can relax. There's a lot of security there. But at the same time, he can concentrate now on helping us win a division."
Praver said the no-trade clause was not something that was easy for general manager Jim Hendry to give up during negotiations.
"It was huge and quite frankly we're not sitting here today if we don't have that," Praver said.
Zambrano signed a $12.4 million, one0year deal just before a scheduled arbitration hearing during spring training.
"My strong belief is that we couldn't have replaced Carlos," Hendry said. "I didn't have an appetite to be on the free agent pitching market all winter. There was nobody close to his ability available."
The Cubs went on a $300 million spending spree in the offseason, including a $136 million, eight-year contract for free agent outfielder Alfonso Soriano.
Hendry said Zambrano stayed patient even as his wait for a new deal dragged out because of the uncertain future of the team and ownership. Hendry has known Zambrano since he was 16 years old.
"I'm sure there were frustrations and I think he understands I was telling him the truth why it couldn't be done," Hendry said.
"It would have been a lot easier for him to say, 'Well you know what, I'll give you a good shot in November, but I'm going to go out and see what's out there.' It's a good ending to something we wished we could have finished in March, but circumstances that even the company couldn't control obviously were involved. And it was nobody's fault."
Zambrano hasn't looked like the Cubs' ace in his previous three starts, failing each time to earn his 15th victory.
He left an outing against the New York Mets in the sixth inning with heat-related cramping and was driven out by Houston in his next start after giving up seven runs in 5 1/3 innings.
On Tuesday night, he allowed 13 hits and six runs in seven innings with two walks and no strikeouts against the Cincinnati Reds.
The sides were close to a deal before that game but couldn't finalize it and Hendry said Zambrano's performance that night was affected by the contract situation.
Zambrano couldn't say for sure if that was bothering him -- there was also speculation that he pitched poorly because his shoulder was hurting but that has been dashed. And now he will pitch Sunday against the Cardinals, knowing he will be with the Cubs through at least 2012.
"Now I have a fresh mind," he said.
He's had an eventful season, getting into a fight with catcher Michael Barrett and breaking a bat over his knee. Against the Reds, he got so angry after grounding out, he slammed his helmet to the ground and it bounced all the way into right field.
His familiar antics on the mound include pumping his fist after getting an out. In one game, he did a complete spin in front of the mound.
Now he should be jumping up and down over one of the biggest contracts ever given a pitcher, even if he did have to wait a while.
Zambrano, who was born in Venezuela, was selected by the Cubs as a non-drafted free agent in 1997. Now he's set for life.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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