According to Ken Rosenthal, the Cubs have inked Carlos Zambrano to a five-year, $91.5MM contract extension. The deal also has a $19.25MM player option for a sixth year, so you might as well call it 6/111.
By waiting, the Cubs cost themselves at least $11.5MM. It's unclear as to whether the original 5/80 deal Zambrano almost signed had a player option. The new contract carries Zambrano through his age 31 season.
This is a home team discount, but $18.3MM annually guaranteed is still pretty hefty. The discount is that the Cubs are on the hook for five or six years instead of seven or eight. And sure, Z probably could've gotten $20MM on the open market. The deal would look a lot better for the Cubs if the 2013 option was the club's. As a player option, Zambrano will basically only exercise it if he's in bad shape.
I've been back and forth on my opinion of a huge Zambrano extension, kind of like the pitcher's up and down season. Part of me says that the Cubs got a slight discount, Zambrano's been an injury-free horse, and he'll still be pretty young throughout the deal. The other side of me says that his best years are behind him, he's got a ton of mileage on his arm, and almost no free agent pitcher deal of this magnitude could possibly work out. I think you could make a legitimate case for either side - sorry for the cop out.
The free agent pitcher market is significantly worse for Zambrano's absence. The best option now appears to be Curt Schilling on a short-term deal, if you can get him.
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