"My strong belief is that we couldn't have replaced Carlos," Hendry said.
Zambrano, then 26, had already pitched four full seasons in the Cubs' rotation and had a career ERA of 3.66 with nearly one strikeout per inning pitched. He was in the midst of another strong season and had an outside shot at 20 wins with free agency just months away.
The deal came less than a year after the Cubs committed $136MM to Alfonso Soriano. And it came less than a year after the Giants signed Barry Zito for $126MM. Zambrano, three years younger than Zito and better at striking hitters out, threatened to leave the Cubs if he didn't get an extension, and other clubs had interest in the right-hander. Here's how some writers initially reacted to the deal that gave Zambrano the fifth-highest salary in the game, behind only Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez and Derek Jeter:
- Tim Dierkes, MLBTR: "I've been back and forth on my opinion of a huge Zambrano extension … 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."
- Rob Neyer, ESPN.com: "Does Zambrano deserve $18 million per season? Well, if you think Barry Zito deserves his $18 million per season, then Zambrano is definitely worth that much. OK, bad example. Zambrano's one of the five best pitchers in the National League, so he was going to get this money or more, somewhere. Still, I wonder if the Cubs might have been better off spending their $91.5 million who's been tested in the real major league."
- Bruce Miles, the Daily Herald: "In this day and age of cynicism, especially when it comes to the mega-money world of professional sports, it's difficult to take anything anybody says at face value. Once in awhile, though, people say things and then follow through on them. All along, Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano, his agents and Cubs general manager Jim Hendry stated it was their goal to agree on a multiyear contract extension for Zambrano … It got done Friday, and it all got done without public sniping … Maybe this time, everybody will live happily ever after."
- Dave van Dyck, Chicago Tribune: "[The contract is an example of] putting your money where your mouth is."