Yesterday, the Cubs handed Carlos Zambrano a contract extension worth about $90 million over five years, with a vesting option for 2013. Zambrano, who has been the club's ace for the past few years, was due to become a free agent at season's end. It's a big contract worth a lot of money, but it's good news for the Twins and their chances of re-signing Johan Santana beyond his current contract, which expires after the 2008 season. Why? Let's take a look.
As most people are probably aware, Barry Zito signed a 7 yr/$126M deal with the Giants during the offseason. That averages out to $18M per year, which is roughly the same average annual salary as Zambrano's. However, Zambrano has posted a better ERA and strikeout rate than Zito over the course of his career, and he's also only 26, whereas Zito was 28 when he signed his monster deal. In the three seasons before he signed with the Giants, Zito posted earned run averages of 4.48, 3.86 and 3.83. Zambrano's ERA numbers over the past three seasons are 2.75, 3.26 and 3.41.
Basically, when looking at his age and the more reasonable length of the contract, the Zambrano deal looks like a much better bargain than the Zito contract. It brings some sanity back to the marketplace. Using Zambrano's $18M/yr as a starting point with Santana is much more beneficial from the Twins' standpoint than using Zito's $18M/yr as a starting point. Zambrano is a better pitcher, and he's more comparable to Santana from a statistical standpoint. Plus, the Zambrano situation is more similar because the Cubs were extending their pitcher's contract while he was still with the team, which is what the Twins will be looking to do during the offseason or into next season.
[Note: I'll be in Madison tonight so there won't be a new post tomorrow (Sunday). We'll be back to regularly scheduled blogging on Monday, and hopefully I'll be writing about a series victory over the Rangers.]