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Taking Another Look At Carlos Zambrano

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Carlos Zambrano is not an ace, despite the fact that the Cubs chose to pay him like one.  He is, however, a durable, effective pitcher, capable of giving his team 180-200 average to above-average innings in a season, and the Yankees have a desperate need for somebody like that, especially if Andy Pettitte chooses not to return in 2011. 

On the mound, he makes up for his high walk rate (4.11 career BB/9) by striking out just under 8 batters per 9 innings, inducing groundballs over flyballs at a 1.5:1 ratio, and limiting his HR/LD rate to about 8.5%.  This mix of skills should play reasonably well against the tough lineups in the AL East.  Much has been said about the gap between his ERA, FIP, and xFIP over his last 11 starts in 2010, but this kind of discrepancy is not unusual for Zambrano, as his career FIP has outpaced his ERA by .43 runs while his xFIP comes in .63 runs greater.  We don't like to admit it sabermetric circles, but some players just defy expectation, and 1,700 actual innings of actual results should attest to that in Zambrano's case.

There is the matter of last year's emotional meltdown, but I'm going to assume that Zambrano, like most other humans, is a rational individual who has already figured out that any repeat of this behavior will cost him tens of millions of dollars when he next hits free agency (no, I'm not buying his comments about retirement).  Attitude, heart, character, and chemistry are nice, moralistic generalizations, but did it really matter that the Yankees clubhouses of the late '70s were about as dysfuntional as the Lohan family?  No.  They won because they had good players on the field. 

Zambrano is better than anybody left on the free agent market, better than anybody on the trade market not named "Greinke", and more of a sure thing than Ivan Nova.  He comes with only moderate risk, with just two years remaining on his contract plus a 2013 option that is based on Cy Young voting and unlikely to vest at this point, and since he is viewed by many as damaged goods, he is an excellent "buy low" candidate.  At the right price, perhaps a couple of B level prospects and 25% salary relief from the Cubs, Brian Cashman should jump all over the deal, that is unless he values teaching 3rd graders a lesson more than he values winning.