Dec
16

Taking down a non-rumor

By

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

It was inevitable. The Yankees lost out of Cliff Lee, and now the potential pitching trade targets are coming out of the woodwork. We’ve heard about Felix Hernandez, Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, Joe Blanton, Kevin freaking Slowey, and plenty of others that are not worth listing. Yesterday another name popped up, one that shouldn’t surprise any of you: Carlos Zambrano. His name has frequented the trade rumor circuit for years, for no other reason than because he’s an ace, or at least the perception is that he’s an ace.

Before we dive into explaining why Zambrano is a bad fit for the Yankees, we have to understand that there is no rumor in the first place. It all started with this little nugget from Bill Madden yesterday…

In the meantime, look for Cashman to spend his saved money on shoring up the bullpen, with re-signing Kerry Wood a new priority. And in addition to re-signing Pettitte, he’ll still be exploring the trade market with the Cubs’ Carlos Zambrano, who experienced a turnaround both in temperament and results under the tutelage of new Yankee pitching coach Larry Rothschild the last six weeks of last season, a likely target.

Emphasis mine. There’s zero reporting there. That’s Bill Madden saying that he considers Big Z a likely target without any concrete information. He didn’t even bother with anonymous scouts or persons close to the situation, he just threw a name out there and qualified it with “likely.” The part about Rothschild is irrelevant; he’d been the Cubs pitching coach since 2002 and now all of a sudden those last six weeks of the season are different? Doesn’t pass the sniff test, but of course everyone ran with it because all they saw was this…

In the meantime, look for Cashman to spend his saved money on shoring up the bullpen, with re-signing Kerry Wood a new priority. And in addition to re-signing Pettitte, he’ll still be exploring the trade market with the Cubs’ Carlos Zambrano … OMG CARLOS ZAMBRANO!!!!

It’s nonsense, made up to fill out some lines in the newspaper. There is no rumor, just Bill Madden’s speculation. Now that that’s out of way, let’s move on to how bad of a move acquiring Zambrano would be if the Yankees did magically trade for him at some point.

He’s Not As Good As You Think

Once upon a time, Carlos Zambrano was a bonafide star in the marking. He pitched to a 3.58 FIP from ages 21 through 24, racking up 14.0 fWAR from 2003 through 2005 with no less than 4.5 fWAR or 209.2 IP per season. The problem is that his FIP and fWAR declined in each of those years, and since that ’05 season Zambrano’s been no better than pretty good.

After a 4.14 FIP, 3.9 fWAR campaign in 2006, Big Z has pitched to a 4.09 FIP with 11.8 fWAR total. He’s eclipsed the three-win plateau just once in the last four seasons, and his performance over that time is right on par with Joe Blanton’s (11.7 fWAR) and slightly worse than Scott Baker’s 12.4 fWAR). A.J. Burnett has even been able to outproduce Zambrano during that time (12.9 fWAR), and he spent 59 days on the disabled list in 2007.

Zambrano is a high strikeout (8.10 K/9 over the last two years), high walk (4.24 BB/9 after taking out intentional walks) pitcher that gets a fair share of ground balls (44.2%), and he’s done a better job of getting his case of homeritis under control in the last few seasons (0.51 HR/9). His swinging strike rate has been below league average for three years now (8.0%), and all of those innings (839.1 IP with the Cubs before he turned 25) seem to be slowly eating away at his velocity.

This isn’t to say that Zambrano is a bad pitcher, just that he’s not the ace he’s made out to be. There’s no denying that he’s a legit innings eater, assuming he isn’t being suspended by his own team like in 2010. His 50th percentile projection is probably something like 2.8-3.2 fWAR going forward, which would absolutely help the Yankees right now, but this isn’t a vacuum. There are other factors to consider besides performance.

He’s Really Overpaid

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Four pitchers in all of baseball make more money on an annual basis than Zambrano, and for all intents and purposes it’s the four best pitchers on the planet: Cliff Lee, CC Sabathia, Johan Santana, and Roy Halladay. That’s it. He’ll make $17.875M in 2011 and then $18M in 2012 before a $19.25M vesting option for 2013 comes into play. The option vests based on Cy Young Award voting, so I wouldn’t expect it to kick in, but we’re still talking $35.875M over the next two years. According to the data at FanGraphs, Zambrano was worth $50.8M in production over the last four seasons while being paid $63.025M. He hasn’t been worth his salary since 2006.

For the Cubs to make this even worth the Yankees’ consideration, they’d have to eat something like $15M left on Zambrano’s deal, and even then they’re not getting anything worthwhile in return.

He’s Insane

It amazes me that people are so quick to write off Zack Greinke as unable to handle New York because Social Anxiety Disorder sounds scary, yet think that Zambrano is fine. The dude is crazy. He’s gotten in teammate’s faces for not making defensive plays behind him, gotten into fights in the dugout (twice in the same game!), beaten the crap out of inanimate objects, and plenty of other stuff that you’ll find if you google “Carlos Zambrano crazy.”

We have absolutely no idea how Greinke would handle the pressure cooker of New York, we just think we do. We know how Zambrano acts when things don’t go his way though, and it involves going off the deep end more times than not. What happens when he has the inevitable four or five start slump (it happens to every pitcher) and has 50,000 people booing the crap out of him every five days? And just think about it for a second, half of the Cubbie faithful wants this guy gone. That tells you right away that there’s a problem, a problem the Yankees don’t need.

* * *

The entire idea of Carlos Zambrano in Yankee pinstripes is little more than a figment of Bill Madden’s imagination right now, and that’s a good thing. The negatives outweigh the positives, but you know the Cubs will value him as an ace-caliber pitcher on the trade market anyway because once upon a time he was that guy. He’s not now, hasn’t been for a few seasons. There is a ton of risk in Zambrano given his well-documented temper, risk that can be far more damaging than some free agent signing blowing out his arm. Just say no to Big Z.

76 Comments»

  1. Granderslam says:

    What’s worse: Zambrano or Garcia? Ha! Oh how I hope Ninja Cash appears and gets a deal done for someone worthy of a Yankee rotation spot. Am I being too optimistic about going after arms like Floyd, Buehrle, Carpenter, Carmona, Dempster types (assuming they are available of course)?

    I must have faith.

    • BillYankee says:

      I really think we should try to snag Joe Blanton. He’s not a #1 or #2 pitcher, but he’s not bad, and he’s a guaranteed workhorse who can pitch consistent innings, and potentially stay below 4.00 in era.
      We know the Phillies wouldn’t mind dumping his salary, and would probably take farm scraps for trade.

    • yankees1717 says:

      jesus christ man, it’s not as if they signed garcia to a 4 year 60 mill deal!! they haven’t even negotiated with him yet, they just looked at his medicals!! the panic button is being way overused

  2. A.D. says:

    Bat shit insane + 2 years is a bad combo, if it was one year, he melts down, oh well.

    The flipside is he could be a great change of scenery case, especially going from being the guy paid to be the ace and under-achieving for a team known to underachieve, and without historical success, to being a middle to back of the rotation guy brought in as a salary dump without a ton of expectation, and with a group of players and a manager who won’t take his shit.

    That said not my favorite option out there.

  3. Will says:

    I’m not sure how that sentence even parses correctly. It sounds like he’s saying the notion of the last six weeks of last season themselves are a likely target. Does Brian Cashman own a time machine? Or can Larry Rothschild create wormholes? Very confusing.

  4. He’s gotten in teammate’s faces for not making defensive plays behind him, gotten into fights in the dugout (twice in the same game!), beaten the crap out of inanimate objects, and plenty of other stuff that you’ll find if you google “Carlos Zambrano crazy.”

    He sounds like a gritty, gamer to me.

  5. Jorge says:

    Zambrano always sounds oh so much better suited for Flushing.

  6. Doug says:

    For me to even consider entertaining the thought of bringing him aboard, Cubs would have to eat more than $15M. More like $20M minimum.

    2/$15M about the max I’d pay him considering the baggage he carries along with him.

  7. Austin says:

    Cubs eat salary. We don’t give up non-prospects prospects.

    Do you really see this guy picking a fight in a dugout with the likes of Derek Jeter sitting there?

    He’s better than our other options, at this point. Didn’t we just inquire about Freddie Garcia?

  8. TANMAN says:

    Greinke and Zambrano are BOTH gambles.

    At least with Zambrano, he won’t cost us a boat load of prospects. If he fails, oh well. Its not like we’ll lose someone like Montero for him.

    Greinke, he WILL cost us a boat load of prospects. If he fails, then all hell would break loose. Why? Because we got “this”, for Montero, Betances, ect…..

    See my point?

  9. wow says:

    What’s worse than AJ going mental?

    Two AJs on the same team going mental together.

  10. Austin says:

    Cubs eat salary. We only give up non-prospects prospects.

    Do you really see this guy picking a fight in a dugout with the likes of Derek Jeter sitting there?

    He’s better than our other options, at this point. Didn’t we just inquire about Freddie Garcia?

  11. JeffG says:

    His dip in velocity worries me the most… but the idea of taking contract opposed to raiding the farm system is still appealing.

    The thing that makes this trade probably not work is Zambrano… perhaps he would want a change of scenery or perhaps he wants to reunite with his pitching coach, but why would he want to pitch in the AL East vs NL Central… seems like it is not the best way to keep getting paid.

  12. Steve H says:

    Question: If the Cubs put Zambrano on irrevocable waivers, would anyone claim him?

    Answer: Hell no.

    If the Yankees had to pay him 2/$15 or so and give up Melky Mesa I’d be interested.

    • Thomas says:

      Question: If the Cubs put Zambrano on irrevocable waivers, would anyone claim him?

      Answer: Hell no. Only Kenny Williams.

  13. bakekrukow says:

    Trade for him and make him the DH. He’ll be the next Ruth. This guy can hit, no joking,

    • JGS says:

      This guy can hit

      This always comes up with Zambrano, but it’s not true. He is a career .236/.244/.387/.631 hitter, and while that is good for third-highest OPS among active pitchers (I expected Mike Hampton to top that list, and he does, but Dontrelle Willis is second? Go figure), it’s pretty terrible for a regular player. He has some power, but nothing even resembling patience (660 plate appearances and he has walked just eight times. Eight!).

      That year he hit six homers? He had just eleven hits the entire season. He hit .151/.160/.397

      Carlos Zambrano has some power, but he can’t hit.

    • FIPster Doofus says:

      You know who can pitch and hit? Dan Haren. I wish the Yankees would’ve gotten him.

  14. Sam P. says:

    How does Bill Madden have a job? Or John Harper? Or Filip Bondy? Lupica, et. al.?

    I want to stab my own eyes out any time Daily News reports on the Yanks come up.

    • FIPster Doofus says:

      Bill Madden doesn’t just have a job – he’s also in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Let that one sink in.

      • Sam P. says:

        You know, I knew that, but somehow had pushed it to the farthest recess of my mind.

        Do you ever feel like you could do a better job reporting than the main papers? I do, every day. That’s why RAB keeps me sane. Haha.

        Oh, and I’d pass on Zambrano too.

  15. Granderslam says:

    SI_JonHeyman: hearing now jenks on verge of deal with #redsox

    well, there goes that idea….freakin sox.

  16. AJ says:

    The Jenks news sucks. but in reference to this post, I really like Kevin Slowey but I don’t see why the Twins would trade him at this point. Hes making under $500,000 this year and I think he can still be very productive.

  17. Plank says:

    Mike,

    You are trying to say there is a double standard with people against getting Greinke because of his head issues but you have a double standard too. Why are you so confident you know enough about Zambrano’s issues that you can say with authority that he wouldn’t work out in NY? You have no idea what his deal is. As others have said, O’Neill had similar head issues.

    Zambrano has been good/awesome his entire career. Trading for him now would be trading when his value is low. Even the last few years, he has been good. He can be counted on to pitch a bunch of innings at much better than league average ERA. He has a good K rate and a low HR rate. The only mark against him is his BB rate.

    Why are you so comfortable giving Greinke the benefit of the doubt when discussing Greinke’s head issues but you are comfortable damning Zambrano for being crazy?

    • Xstar7 says:

      Maybe because Zambrano and Greinke are opposite extremes.

      • Plank says:

        Opposite extremes of what? You know nothing about them other than what you read by beat reporters, bloggers, and their stats.

        • Zack says:

          They’re opposites in how they handle people, Zambrano blows up at them, Greinke doesn’t. Unless you have links showing Greinke fighting with teammates in the dugout.

          • Plank says:

            That’s certainly the narrative that has been constructed but how do you know that’s true.

            Mike is willing to say we can’t make assumptions about Greinke but he’s fully willing to make assumptions about Zambrano.

            The truth certainly could be that they are both basket cases that can’t pitch in NY, but I think that narrative is overblown for both of them.

    • Mike Axisa says:

      Because that has been Carlos Zambrano his entire career. We’ve seen him have blow ups over and over and over again. The evidence is staring us right in the face. To think a move to the Yankees will magically change things is foolish, in my opinion.

      • Mike R says:

        Hey Mike, so glad you wrote an article like this. I was wondering where Bill Madden came up with such a crazy ass idea. I can’t tell you how many times I saw Zambrano in a fight with his teammates replayed over and over on ESPN. Anyone in Yankee land knows, stuff like that won’t last in the Yankees club house. Also the fact that he and Larry Rothschild had “worked on improvements in the last six weeks” has to be the world analysis ever. So they improved the last six weeks of the season, but since 2002 they didn’t accomplish anything. Like you said Zambrano is nothing more than a slightly above average pitcher who brings way too much baggage to the clubhouse. I’d much rather trade for Greinke before I even considered bringing this guy to NY no matter what prospects we trade. Oh wait not to mention this guy is clearly overpaid.

      • Plank says:

        But his results are fine, what needs to change? He blows up every once in a while and he pitches well. What’s wrong with that?

        Why would something need to change for it to be a viable move to help the Yankees? The Cubs would throw in money and the Yanks probably wouldn’t have to give up much.

        • JAG says:

          That’s your assumption though: he pitches well. He doesn’t really. He’s been worse than AJ Burnett for the past 3 years. Think about that.

          The difference between Greinke and Zambrano is that Greinke is great (or at worst really good) and Zambrano is merely good (and at worst mediocre). While the cost isn’t the same, when you add in the potential clubhouse impact, Zambrano isn’t worth going for.

          • Plank says:

            AJ Burnett has 5.6 bWAR the last 3 seasons. Zambrano has 8.6 bWAR over the last 3 seasons. Burnett was also replacement level last season (-0.1 bWAR) while Zambrano was at 2.7 bWAR.

            AJ has more IP in each of the past 3 seasons.

            That’s your assumption though: he pitches well. He doesn’t really. He’s been worse than AJ Burnett for the past 3 years. Think about that.

            I have thought about it. It’s completely untrue.

            While the cost isn’t the same, when you add in the potential clubhouse impact, Zambrano isn’t worth going for.

            Do you think Jeter, Arod, Posada, and the rest of the current Yankees are so fragile that they wouldn’t be able to play at their best if they don’t like one of their teammates? I have more faith in them than that. And that’s using your assumption that Zambrano would be a negative impact in the clubhouse.

      • mike c says:

        He’s still the best pitcher available without giving up the farm. He’s a gamble but I like him over Nova

    • The Real JobaWockeeZ says:

      This guy is worse than O’Neill. He’ll fight with everyone on the team. I think chemistry is the most overrated thing ever but I don’t want a guy like that being near the clubhouse.

      Imagine he shows up a defender for making an error and Jeter walks up to him. He’ll kick Jeter in the balls afterwards. It’s not worth it unless the Yanks pay minimum for him.

      • Plank says:

        You say it with authority that he’ll fight with everyone on the team. How do you know that? It’s certainly possible, but you’re speculating just as much as Bill Maddon was.

        • Mike R says:

          Yah besides the fact that Bill Madden is talking about Zambrano improving in a six week basis.. Small sample size much? Not only that but this has been Zambrano his whole career. This just in, if he hasn’t changed by now he never will. You’re assuming he’ll change, yet he hasn’t. He’s not a rookie anymore.

      • Steve H says:

        He’ll kick Jeter in the balls afterwards.

        I LOL’d

  18. Fair Weather Freddy says:

    Get Soriano!

  19. Preston says:

    The difference between Zambrano and Grienke is simple. I’m not pretending to have any insight into their issues but Grienke’s Social Anxiety disorder affected his pitching. He had to be sent back to the minors. Zambrano’s blowups have not. He was an abrasive ass when he was great and he’s been an abrasive ass when he’s struggled but it doesn’t seem to affect his on the field play. The Cub’s tolerance level for his tantrums changed the last couple of years because he’s transformed from bona fide ace to a slightly above average pitcher.

    My biggest concern with Grienke is that he doesn’t want to be a Yankee. We can speculate whether increased pressure and media would cause old issues to flair up, but obviously we don’t know. It does concern me if the reason the Yankees and Red Sox are part of his no trade clause is because he thinks it would be an issue.

    I think the Cubs would at least eat ten million of Zambrano’s contract which would make Grienke and Zambrano comprable in terms of money and commitment. The difference is you would have to give up elite prospects and a lot of them for Grienke. I have no idea what the Cubs would want for Zambrano. If the asking price for Zambrano is one or two mid-level guys and the asking price for Grienke is four of our top ten, then I’m leaning Zambrano.
    Although if we re-sign Pettitte I’d rather avoid the head-ache and go with Nova…

    • Mike R says:

      Last I heard Grienke mad a comment that he’d “Have no problem coming to NY and would love to help the Yankees win”. I love a guy with a mentality who WANTS to come to NY not just for the money.. I wish there were more people like Carmelo who “ONLY” want to goto NY shit like that really makes me happy. That’s why I’ll always love Derek Jeter, he only wanted to play in NY and he’s going to retire here. Hats off to the Captain and anyone else who WANTS the pressure and WANTS to win.

      • Hughesus Christo says:

        Is that why NY is on Greinke’s no-trade list?

        • Mike R says:

          I’m not saying Greinke is the guy who is “gravitated” towards NY. I was simply stating the fact that he is no longer shying away from coming to NY. The Yankees were on his no trade list because earlier in his career he didn’t believe he could handle the pressure of the big lights. However, as we all know you mature with age and now he says he would be ready to pitch in the spotlight. In no way am I saying Greinke is the type of guy who WANTS to pitch in NY but he definitely is no longer shying away from the possibility.

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