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Carlos Zambrano has a nutso player option . . . that could be serious trouble for baseball

Sep 16, 2010, 12:28 PM EDT

Carlos Zambrano could make $19 million in 2013 based on the vote of a single baseball writer. Does this bother you?

We passed along word this morning that Carlos Zambrano is leaning towards retirement after 2012.  But as Buster Olney notes in his column today, Zambrano may have $19 million reasons to stick around for 2013:

He has an interesting player option that should be a heck of a big
carrot for him in the next couple of years. If Zambrano were to finish
in the top two in the Cy Young voting in 2011, or in the top four in
2012, then he has a $19 million player option that vests automatically.
Zambrano would have to hold his emotions and focus together for an
entire summer to make that happen, but he has great incentive to try, at
a time when a $19 million salary for a pitcher is something that has
become more and more difficult to obtain.

Longshot, I realize it. But as Olney also notes, Zambrano is 6-0 with a 1.59 ERA over his last eight starts. The skills are still there. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that he could throw together a really nice season.

And it wouldn’t have to be that nice. Sure, top two in the Cy Young voting in 2011 is a stretch, but top four in 2012 isn’t. Consider: Javier Vazquez was fourth in the 2009 Cy Young voting results. He got there on the power of ONE SECOND PLACE VOTE. You telling me that there isn’t one writer out there who if, say, Zambrano won 16 games by virtue of health and some good run support, wouldn’t throw him a vote if there is no clear pecking order (as was the case last year)?

Which, now that I think about it, is troubling as all hell.  One writer. One guy could be the difference between Zambrano retiring or the Cubs being on the hook for $19 million in 2013.  Yes, the whole point of the clause is reward good-but-not-necessarily-great pitching, but given some of the outlandish down-ballot awards voting we’ve seen in recent years, it’s possible that something fluky could happen and Zambrano could get his option even with a blah year.

I’ve mostly dismissed the arguments writers have made about not wanting to vote on awards for such reasons because I’ve never really thought it was likely for a vote or two to make such an impact (and because if the teams want to be stupid enough to let players make millions based on crazy baseball writer votes, God help them).

But then again, we’ve never had a team place such a large amount of money on a contract incentive that could be so easily attainable before either, and frankly, it gives me the willies.

  1. birdmancometh - Sep 16, 2010 at 12:42 PM

    If I’m a writer I’m calling Carlos right now and negotiating a % of that salary to give him a first place vote. Forget the integrity of the game. If he gives me 3 mil, the vote is his and he gets 16.

  2. ThatGuy - Sep 16, 2010 at 1:07 PM

    Or what if someone just wants to stick it to the cubs. A cardinals writer or somthing, saddle them with a 19 million salary…

  3. mike3775 - Sep 16, 2010 at 1:13 PM

    It wouldn’t take much to get a couple votes to get that. Like has been mentioned, a rival team writer with a vote could use it to screw the Cubs, and heck, Carlos himself could make a deal on the side as well.

  4. Adenzeno - Sep 16, 2010 at 2:04 PM

    I was just thinking that!

  5. David - Sep 16, 2010 at 2:49 PM

    Last year, only 1 vote was needed for fourth place because the writers ballot only had 3 spots – 1st, 2nd and 3rd. This year the ballot has expanded to 5 places, so garnering a top 4 finish will be more difficult.
    PS – Javy Vazquez had an amazing year last year and was entirely deserving of his 4th place finish.

  6. Chipmaker - Sep 16, 2010 at 3:11 PM

    Curt Schilling had a bonus clause in his last Red Sox contract where he would collect some munny for receiving just one CYA vote of any ranking.
    It became a non-issue when Schilling managed to stay injured the entire season, but some writers were a bit worried about that, how even a third-place vote would have triggered the bonus, and a kickback would have been so easy.

  7. Spudchukar - Sep 16, 2010 at 4:58 PM

    Does Keith Law still have a vote? He was the writer that voted for Vasquez. When I asked him about it he told me he was not required to make his decision based on who played the best in that particular season, and that I had a separate reality to believe everyone should vote according to that standard. So on field accomplishments is only one factor according to Law. Potential, past performances etc, can be used to determine the Cy Yound award according to his logic. I had accused him of making the oft made error of voting for the best player versus who performed the best in a particular season, thereby initiating his response.

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