There are no last chances in baseball, not as long as you happen to be a pitcher and your dominant appendage remains attached and you can win a game or 12.
So, Carlos Zambrano's move to the Miami Marlins – he's taking his malcontent to South Beach, according to reports – is no day of reckoning for the mercurial, 30-year-old right-hander, no matter how it might be cast.
It might, however, be his last chance at happiness – true happiness – in a game that's tried to make him happy for most of his life. Frankly, the game's exhausted from the effort.
He's on a contender. He's pitching for his pal and fellow Venezuelan, manager Ozzie Guillen. He's in a ballpark surrounded by folks who aren't so tired of his act they'd just as soon watch him drive away than witness another destructive meltdown, no matter his aptitude.
And, for the first time in who knows how long, he won't be the most disgruntled guy in the clubhouse. I'm guessing Hanley Ramirez will hold that honor, assuming he's still a Marlin in six weeks.
No, Zambrano, 30 going on 12 and too often an embarrassment to his uniform, has too much to pitch for in 2012 to make this anything less than a stroke of genius for David Samson, Larry Beinfest and the rest of the Fishmen.
Zambrano will earn – I'm assuming he'll "earn" it this time – $18 million this season, a good portion presumably paid by the team that dealt him, the Chicago Cubs. And that's the last of the guaranteed big money. His 2013 option – for $19.25 million – vests with a top-four finish in the National League Cy Young vote and finishing the year healthy.
Hey, if the game doesn't drive you, if your career isn't about teammates or championships or showing up or dignity, that sort of leaves money. And there's no shame in that. There's weaker motivation.
ESPN Chicago reported Wednesday afternoon the Cubs had shipped Zambrano and his baggage (and, presumably, some luggage) to the Marlins for right-hander Chris Volstad, who was 5-13 with a 4.89 ERA last season.
That's good for the Cubs, good for new manager Dale Sveum, good for the nice people of Chicago, and especially good for Zambrano. No matter how many sit-downs he had with Theo Epstein, no matter how eloquent the orations on fresh starts and new men, Zambrano had gone toxic in Chicago. There's no hosing that off the Wrigleyville sidewalk.
So, I hope Carlos Zambrano sees this for what it is – not one more shot at the career that seemed ahead of him four years ago, but one more shot at being satisfied with the career he looks back on.
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- Carlos Zambrano