Cubs, Zambrano closing in on five-year deal
Ken Rosenthal / FOXSports.com
The Cubs' chances of signing right-hander Carlos Zambrano to a new five-year contract look better than ever.
Zambrano has waived his Opening Day deadline for completing negotiations with the club, according to his agent, Barry Praver.
The two sides apparently are negotiating the final details of a deal that is expected to be worth more than $80 million over five years.
The contract would be the largest ever awarded to a non-free agent starting pitcher, both in average salary and total dollars.
"Our discussions have progressed to the point where we're going to extend the deadline for an indefinite period of time," Praver told FOXSports.com on Sunday.
Zambrano, 25, previously had agreed to a one-year, $12.4 million contract for this season. His new deal would supersede that one, tying him to the Cubs through 2011.
The Cubs, after spending more than $300 million last off-season on free agents and new manager Lou Piniella, are in no position to lose Zambrano, their only pitcher who qualifies as an ace.
The departure of Zambrano would leave left-handers Ted Lilly and Rich Hill and right-hander Jason Marquis as the centerpieces of the Cubs' rotation, likely forcing them to pursue less attractive free-agent pitchers next off-season.
Among the pitchers expected to be available, right-hander Bartolo Colon isn't as durable as Zambrano. Lefty Mark Buerhle and righties Freddy Garcia, Jason Jennings and Jake Westbrook aren't as accomplished. Righties John Smoltz and Curt Schilling, both of whom will be over 40, aren't nearly as young.
Zambrano, if he plays out the season and becomes a free agent, likely would top the seven-year, $126 million that the Giants awarded left-hander Barry Zito. But he has been adamant about remaining with the Cubs, and could secure an even bigger payday in the future if he stays healthy. By signing for only five years, he could become a free agent at 30.
Among non-free agent starting pitchers, Zambrano's deal is expected to top the five-year, $73 million contract that the Astros awarded right-hander Roy Oswalt last August and the six-year, $75 million deal the Red Sox gave righty Pedro Martinez in 1998.
Zambrano likely would have received less than Oswalt if he had signed an extension before the eruption of the free-agent market last off-season. By waiting, he figures to add approximately $10 million to his deal.
Zambrano, 64-42 lifetime with a 3.29 ERA, is a two-time All-Star. He has pitched 209 or more innings in each of the past four seasons.