- Bruce Levine, Chicago baseball beat reporter
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Beleaguered Chicago Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano is wasting little time getting ready to pitch in 2012. A major league source told ESPNChicago that Zambrano has joined Caribes de Anzoategui, a winter ball team in Puerta La Cruz, Venezuela. Zambrano will begin pitching in November but he is already with the team in Venezuela, according to the source.
Zambrano last pitched in the major leagues on Aug. 12, the day he was put on the disqualified list by the Cubs. Zambrano, 30, was ejected from his last start after allowing a franchise record five home runs against the Atlanta Braves in 4 1/3 innings. Zambrano twice threw inside at Atlanta's Chipper Jones before being ejected. He then cleared out his locker and told team personnel that he was quitting. Former general manager Jim Hendry put Zambrano on the 30-day disqualified list after the incident.
Zambrano began getting paid again on Sept. 11. His agents negotiated a deal with the Cubs that he would not return to the team in 2011. The Players Association, on behalf of Zambrano, filed a grievance on the disqualification in order for him to regain both status and money that he lost during that period. The case is still pending before the MLBPA and Major League Baseball.
The consensus is that Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts and his family prefer that Zambrano is traded due to his volatile on-field behavior and infamous bad temper.
New president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said on Tuesday that he would like to sit down with Zambrano and talk. If the Cubs are going to trade him, the major stumbling block will not only be the almost $18 million owed for 2012 but a $19.4 million vesting option that would guarantee a contract for 2013 if Zambrano finishes in the top four of the 2012 CY Young voting. That clause alone could cause teams to hesitate before acquiring Zambrano.
Industry sources believe that if Zambrano can be traded, the Cubs will have to absorb upwards of half of his 2012 salary. According to another major league source, Zambrano would like to join his close friend, Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen in South Florida next season. The Marlins are in need of starting pitching and Guillen may convince Miami ownership that he can control and get the best out of Zambrano.
Zambrano, who finished with a 9-7 record and a 4.82 ERA in 24 starts, also has 5-and-10 rights, meaning that he can veto any trade. Therefore in reality he could force the Cubs to either put him on their team in 2012 or release him and pay off his $17.885 million contract for next year.
The Cubs released Carlos Silva at the end of spring training in 2011. They were on the hook for paying him $11.5 million plus a $2 million buyout for 2012.