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Is Carlos Zambrano signing a move of desperation by Phillies?

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After Wednesday’s loss to the Indians, the Phillies now stand at 19-22. With the Braves and Nationals struggling for consistency, the team still has an outside shot of staying competitive in the NL East.Photo: studiousmetsimus.blogspot.com

 

With Roy Halladay out indefinitely, Cole Hamels looking very ineffective at times in the early going and John Lannan being...well...John Lannan, the Phillies were looking to upgrade their pitching staff. So in a move that’s not completely surprising, the Phillies signed enigmatic right-hander Carlos Zambrano to a minor-league contract. Zambrano is on his way to Clearwater for an extended spring training, but has received no guarantees from the Phillies that he will return to the majors. In fact, Zambrano can opt out of his deal if he isn’t with the big club by July 1st.

 

While persistent rumors regarding the signing of Zambrano have been rampant since last weekend, you could easily categorize this as a desperation move by the Phillies, or you could see it as a move to acquire a veteran starter with a proven track record that potentially gives the rotation a boost. And whether you like him or not, Zambrano does have a decent track record.

 

In the early 2000s, the Cubs were loaded with young arms that were supposed to carry the franchise for years. While most of the hype surrounded Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, Zambrano was usually lost in the mix when discussing the team’s aces.

 

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Oddly enough, Zambrano turned out to have the most longevity of the three. Wood struggled with arm injuries his whole career and Prior threw his last major league pitch in 2006 (he’s currently pitching for Cincinnati's Triple-A affiliate). Meanwhile, Zambrano went on to finish fifth in the Cy Young voting in 2004, 2006 (while leading the National League in wins) and 2007. In the process, he racked up three All-Star appearances and three Silver Slugger Awards.

 

Chances are however, what you see in the next few weeks (if you see him at all) won’t be the same Carlos Zambrano you're used to seeing. His numbers have steadily declined since 2010, his blowups are too numerous to list, and you ultimately run the possibility of poisoning the Phillies clubhouse. Is it just a coincidence that Zambrano had no takers when he became a free agent last off-season? When you’re a prominent player on your team, management sometimes takes the good with the bad as long as you’re producing (see Terrell Owens or Allen Iverson). When your numbers start to decline however, they’re less inclined to put up with the behavior that Zambrano exemplifies.

 

To say Zambrano is an interesting case is an understatement. All you need to do is check out his rap sheet: He’s had to enroll in anger management classes, he’s gotten into physical altercations with umpires as well as teammates when they’ve either made mistakes or haven’t given what he feels is a maximum effort. I won’t mention any particular Phillies, but this team can get in their ruts, and chances are it won’t be pretty if anything goes awry on the field when Zambrano is on the mound. Then there’s the time he called out the fans at Wrigley Field when they booed him after a poor performance. If he has a bad outing in Citizens Bank Park, I can’t even go anywhere comically with that one.

 

As the Phillies have recently shown with the signing of Delmon Young, the team is open to taking chances on players with the condition that they don’t embarrass themselves and the organization. Does this have a feel of desperation? Upon first impression, yes. But then again, it’s low-risk, and if Zambrano delivers, everything will be fine.

 

If he doesn’t, well, we can call him the Phillies’ 2013 version of Jim DeShaies. If you’re not familiar with him, take a look at his Phillies' record.

That’s just downright ugly.

 

Contact Joe Vallee at jvallee@philly2philly.com

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