An ace retires.
Maybe it was just one bad game too many. Maybe he's feeling altruistic. Maybe he's burnt out. Maybe it is just time to go.
As we all know, a few days ago in Atlanta, Zambrano gave up five home runs against the Braves and got ejected for throwing a ball at Chipper Jones plus some general antics. Right away, Big Z, visibly frustrated, cleaned out his locker and claimed that he is "retiring".
Since last week's tomfoolery, Zambrano's agent said he's not retiring and the Cubs have suspended him for a month without pay.
Without ruthlessly ushering him out the door, it is tempting for Cubs fans to think about the possibilities of what could come if a highly-paid yet under-performing starter like Carlos Zambrano were to retire and make room in the Cubs' clubhouse.
Really...What's the worst that could happen?
There's plenty going wrong in Wrigleyville these days, and plenty of road games that make us think that the Cubs can't win out of town either.
Carlos Zambrano isn't the only player at work in the bad collective attitude that the Cubs have got going in 2011. Nor is he the linchpin of the Cubs' problems. Yet sometimes change is good and a little feng shui within the roster doesn't hurt. This "change is good" mentality was probably at work last year when the Cubs shipped out Derrick Lee, Ted Lilly and others to make room for future stars.
Still, when a pro baseball team is essentially out of contention by June, team morale can be low when toxicity is high. Shedding a hot head from the clubhouse—one known for outbursts and unprofessional antics like Zambrano—is probably a good idea for a fresh start.
Of course, everyone says that Mike Quade is a dead man walking, or that he's a temporary patch until the Cubs can get to a place, especially financially, where the club can attract a top manager who can bring in top talent with new money.
Dumping Zambrano's bad work-environment vibes and his big salary, part of a $91.5 million five year deal, adds its perks. Former Cub Joe Girardi and maestro Joe Torre are among the top tier managers that the Cubs could aim for. Yet, neither would put up with the Cubs current roster of under-performing sour puss players, much less the immovable contracts without something more in the mix.
And then there's Ryno. Ryne Sandberg (pictured) wants to coach the Cubs. The thing is, he's such a gentleman and class act that he wouldn't think in a million years of criticizing his friend Mike Quade for fear of undercutting him and being disrespectful.
But Zambrano could go as could Quade. Move a few things around, and the picture looks better already.
There isn't a ton of junk out there to suggest that Albert Pujols is totally miserable in St Louis or that he's begging for a trip up the Mississippi. And Prince Fielder seems reasonably content, slugging away for the first-place Milwaukee Brewers, a team that will probably win the NL Central.
But baseball is business, and with the salary cap room that is said to be available for the Cubs, Zambrano's alleged retirement would just add room to the pocketbook for sensible trades.
For this reason, if the Cubs are serious about that World Series campaign they've been putting off for years, a move for Pujols and/or Fielder would be a bold start. And then there are a few hitters in Philly (say Raul Ibañez, Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino) that might want make their mark elsewhere, for the right price.
OK, so it's not like the Cubs pitching roster is crowded with studs these days.
Then again, move Carlos Zambrano off the mound and out of the roster, and there is more room to accommodate both seasoned starting pitchers and sparky up-and-comers.
A long-shot move for the Angels' Jered Weaver could be a stretch, and a bid for A.J. Burnett might be enough to take the scowl off the Yankee pitcher's face. Better yet, an enterprising trade for the young Nationals fastball pitcher Stephen Strasburg, soon returning from injury, could be a profitable long-term venture.
It's not likely that the Cubs can or will totally clean house. Aramis Ramirez doesn't want to go and said no to a recent trade. Ryan Dempster has had his spats with coach Mike Quade, and this seems to imply he's hoping to outlive his current manager on the Cubs' roster.
And then there's Carlos Peña, an excellent player with a good attitude who has just not been hitting the way he was before the Cubs brought him on board. It would be a shame to see Peña run out his two-year contract only to move on and kill it somewhere else like Detroit or The Bronx.
I'm not a betting man, and like many Cubs fans, I go by the gut. And my hunch is with a new manager, newer sluggers and an able, more mature pitcher to replace Carlos Zambrano, the Cubs will get better results out of existing players.
Peña will hit more. Carlos Marmol will pitch his best, and young talents like Starlin Castro, Marlon Bird and Tyler Colvin will get better and (more importantly) will want to stay.
Carlos Zambrano is only one spare part in a hot rod that has many, many more years to go. So let's get this engine running again.
Andy Frye writes about sports and life for The Bleacher Report and ESPN.com, and you can follow him on Twitter at @MySportsComplex.