z_sweat.jpgBig Z might have been wise to take a page from the Roger Clemens playbook and just skip April.

And most of May if he could have gotten away with it, because Zambrano has been costing himself potential millions by starting the season on time and starting the season with a Bruce Chen impersonation.

Zambrano, who entered the season as the Cubs’ staff ace, has been anything but.

On Thursday (May 10) Zambrano was touched up for 6 runs in a loss to the Pirates. In fairness, only 4 were earned. Matt Murton started checking out the Lincoln Park Trixies in the crowd before squeezing a fly ball out. The ball glanced off the outside of his glove and the muff led to a couple of unearned runs for the ‘Burgh. Bummer because the Cubs came back with a couple of late homers to pull within 6-4. Take the two unearned runs off the board, and Big Z is off the hook for the loss.

Still, Zambrano got gotten to early (again) and gave up 3 runs in the first.

At 3-3 with a 5.38 ERA and 1.60 WHIP, he is pitching more like a Number 4 in a rotation where Ted Lilly, Rich Hill, and Jason Marquis—yes, the same Jason Marquis who posted a sub-.500 record with an ERA over 6 for St. Louis in 2006—have combined for 11 wins with 17 quality starts and an ERA of 2.07.

Kind of makes you wonder how the Cubs are only (as of today) a .500 ball club. Kind of, but not really. They are the Cubs after all.

Anyway, Zambrano’s numbers compare (un)favorably to other back end guys like Zack Grienke (5.71 ERA, 1.731 WHIP) and Tomo Ohka (5.53 ERA, 1.525 WHIP).

Zambrano had originally given the club an opening day deadline for getting a long term deal done to lock him up as a Cub. He waived the deadline and accepted a 1-year $12.4 million deal. The two sides were apparently in the late stages of negotiating an $80 million 5-year deal to supersede the current 1-year contract, wedding Z to the Cubs through 2011.

That’s when fate decided it couldn’t forever hold its peace. The Tribune Company, the Cubs’ parent organization, accepted a buyout offer and put the team up for sale. That put the nearly-completed Zambrano deal on hold.

z_scream.jpgNow, Zambrano can probably hear the zeros dropping off that contract every time he takes the mound.

If Zambrano were to get rewarded with a contract becoming of the Number 4 he’s becoming, he’d lose $67.4 million.

Or he’d lose $77.6 million. Depending.

The former is based on the current annual mean salary of about $2.53 million for Number 4 starters in MLB. Given a 5-year deal, Zambrano would only earn $12.6 million over the life of the contract. That’s less than what he would earn in a single year of the one left in limbo.

The latter figure is based on the median salary of $489,500 for the same data. The five-year life of that contract would pay Big Z about what he would make in a month of the reported $80 million deal.

It probably goes without saying, but, Holy Crap, that’s a lot of money.

In reality, neither is probably a good statistic to use as the distribution of salaries for the Number 4 guys is a bit peculiar. And this is probably one of those instances where it is prudent to actually look at the data to see what it is telling you.

Fully half of theses guys are still working on their rookie contracts and making between than $380K and $490K. Most of the rest are vets of little distinction making somewhere between $3 million and about $7.5 million per season.

Neither low-end contract is likely to happen in any event as well. First, a six-figure deal just isn’t happening for a vet. Second, even a with sub-par season, a free agent Zambrano would probably get an offer in the range of a rotation top-ender. He was pretty manly in 2006. And some GM somewhere will bet a pile o’ cash that 2007 was an abberation. Zambrano won’t get Oswalt or Zito money, but he won’t be holding a sign at an intersection any time soon.

But if he is as bad as he was Thursday for the rest of the season, then Zambrano could be costing himself some serious jack and losing vacation homes and yachts along with losing baseball games. The upper tier of the Number 4 rotation guys (presumably in the range where, worst case, he would be getting paid) make about $7 million per. A five-year $7 million dollar deal means—again, assuming it doesn’t get much better than a .500 record with a 5-plus ERA—that the sale of the Tribune Company probably cost Zambrano $45 million.

Actually Zambrano’s pitching performance cost Zambrano $45 million. It’s like the Shawn-O-Meter. Only with dollars. Oh, and it runs backwards.

[Ed. Note: For a nice rundown on why Carlos might be sucking, click here]