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Is this the last chance for Carlos Zambrano?

In an off-season in which newspaper headlines have run amok with Cubs roster moves and predictions for the 2011 season, one of particular interest was that which featured Carlos Zambrano’s excitement for the new season. Everyone’s favorite ticking time bomb was eager to dismiss last season’s escapades and focus on the 2011 season at the annual Cubs convention.

Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Carlos Zambrano points skyward following the end of the third inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on August 14, 2010. UPI/Bill Greenblatt

Naturally, every Cubs fan from the streets of Chicago to the far reaches of the globe is wondering what Zambrano will show up. Will it be the bat-breaking, fire-breathing, volatile beast of man that landed him in anger management, or will it be the emotionally intact pitcher we all saw in his 8-0 finish to the 2010 season? It certainly would help the team immensely if it were the latter, but if Big Z continues to display the immaturity that has haunted his career, it is time for the organization to part ways with him.

The detrimental impacts of his antics last season completely tore apart the team’s chemistry and manager Lou Pinella’s sense of control over the players. With Mike Quade now running the show, Zambrano has a golden opportunity to keep his slate clean and stay the course.

However, if Big Z decides he needs to start kicking and screaming all over again, it would be wise for Quade to establish himself as top dog and put Z down hard—bench him, kick him out, suspend him, whatever it takes. With close to $60 million left on his contract, Zambrano is nigh untradeable—unless the Yankees come knocking—and what team would want to pick up a player who would sabotage every wood bat in the dugout? If Carlos goes sour, the Cubs’ only option should be to cut him loose.

Being in the market of Chicago, and with Ricketts’ ownership, the Cubs can afford to take the financial hit that would result from cutting Zambrano. In this case, the ends of having team togetherness and unity justify the means of eating around $60 million. Quade and pitching coach Mark Riggins have a solid rotation without Zambrano, and can turn to promising youngsters like Andrew Cashner or Jeff Samardzija in an attempt to fill the void.

Zambrano is no longer the ace of this staff. If he decides not to be what a major league baseball player should be, then the organization would be right to cut the rope holding his dragging weight.