- Bruce Levine, Chicago baseball beat reporter
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After trading Carlos Zambrano to the Miami Marlins on Thursday, Chicago Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said his first inclination after talking to team players and personnel was to trade the disgruntled pitcher.
"I talked to enough [players] in order to get an understanding of the history here," Epstein said. "This isn't a decision that players will make. But I think if you don't listen to what happens in the clubhouse then you can't develop a proper understanding of it."
The transaction requires the Cubs to pay $15 million of the $18 million owed Zambrano in 2012, a source said. Zambrano had a $19 million vesting option for 2013 if he finished in the top four in Cy Young Award voting, but he waived that and will receive a $100,000 bonus if he is voted the comeback player of the year.
Zambrano also waived his no-trade clause, and the deal hinged on the Cubs agreeing to pay back $2.4 million of the $3 million Zambrano lost when he was put on the disqualified list for leaving Atlanta's Turner Field -- and saying he was retiring -- on Aug. 12, the source said.
"I'll just say that the people who have been around the situation over the years heard before there would be change," Epstein said. "They heard before there would be a new attitude, and they have been burned. Physical altercations, deserting the team, that type of thing. The best way to put it is there was a breakdown of trust. It would have been very difficult to re-establish that trust."
The Cubs will receive right-handed pitcher Chris Volstad in return. The former first-round draft pick was 32-39 with a 4.59 ERA in 103 major league appearances, including 102 starts, with the Marlins the past four seasons.
The 6-foot-8, 230-pound Volstad is 25 and a workhorse, having made at least 29 starts in each of the past three seasons.
"We've all been a little bit baffled by some of Chris' inconsistencies," Marlins president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest said.
For Zambrano, the possibility of pitching for friend and former Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen may have played a role in waiving the no-trade clause.
"Ozzie has a long and close relationship with Carlos," Beinfest said. "We went with Ozzie on this one. The bottom line was Ozzie just really, really felt confident about this deal."
The emotional right-hander had several highly publicized outbursts as a Cub, one being a dugout altercation with former teammate Derrek Lee in 2010 while facing the White Sox that lead to a suspension. After that game, Zambrano had dinner with Guillen, who supported the pitcher.
Zambrano was required to attend anger-management sessions, and they seemed to make an impact as he won all eight decisions upon his return to finish the season 11-6. He spent part of the season in the bullpen after a slow start and because the Cubs were struggling with their relief pitching.
Last season proved to be marked by more erratic behavior by Zambrano, whose emotions boiled over Aug. 12 after he allowed five home runs against the Braves. After two inside pitches to Chipper Jones, Zambrano was ejected. He proceeded to clean out his locker stall and left Turner Field during the game after telling clubhouse workers he was retiring.
The pitcher quickly recanted, but the damage already had been done, and Zambrano was put on the disqualified list by then-general manager Jim Hendry. The players' union filed a grievance and Zambrano was activated Sept. 11, but he did not pitch the rest of the season.
Epstein had a face to face meeting with Zambrano and his agent Barry Praver on Nov. 15 in Chicago. Epstein said Thursday he told Zambrano that he believed the best option for the team and the pitcher was a trade. With a no-trade clause, Zambrano said he would not consider a trade and asked for a chance to repair his relationship with the players and fans.
Epstein had no choice but to go along with Zambrano. That all changed on Monday when the Cubs and Marlins agreed to the parameters of a deal. At that point the Cubs contacted Praver who then asked Zambrano if he would waive his no-trade and 2013 option.
Epstein felt this was the best option for both sides.
"Not just talking to players but talking to a lot of the people that have been here for many years, they made it clear in my mind this wasn't just a mob mentality or unfair momentum to run this guy out of town," Epstein said. "This was a very legitimate situation. It would have been very difficult for him to re-establish himself in that clubhouse and gain the trust of his teammates back. Therefore it would be very difficult to establish the culture we want in the clubhouse. I think the certainty of this move, turning [Zambrano] into a 25-year-old starter that we liked made a lot more sense."
Hendry, who gave Zambrano a five-year, $91.5 million contract extension in 2007, was relieved of his GM duties on Aug. 19.
Several Cubs players had questioned publicly how Zambrano would be welcomed back to the clubhouse, and now they don't have to ponder it. Zambrano's demeanor now becomes a question for the Marlins.
"It would be hard for me to say everything is going to be perfect and incident-free, given the guy's history," Beinfest said. "It may happen that he has a blowup or two. But Ozzie is very confident he can help him."
Zambrano, who has been playing winter ball in Venezuela, is one of the best hitting pitchers in MLB history and set a Cubs record for home runs by a pitcher with 23. He often was used as a pinch hitter.
One of the highlights of his career occurred on Sept. 14, 2008, when he threw a no-hitter against the Houston Astros at Milwaukee's Miller Park. The game was moved from Houston because of Hurricane Ike and was MLB's first neutral-site no-hitter.
Volstad is arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter, and his contract status made him appealing to the Cubs.
"The calculus became for us: Would we rather spend that $18 million on one season of Carlos and try to make it work with him here?" Epstein said. "In the best case scenario even if it did work, he'd be leaving at the end of the year as a free agent. Or, if we were going to have to spend that money anyway as a sum cost, would we rather spend it on a 25-year-old that we can put in our rotation and control for three seasons? That made a lot of sense."
Meanwhile, pitcher Chad Gaudin says he has reached agreement on a minor league deal with the Marlins and received an invitation to spring training.
Bruce Levine covers baseball for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.