The right-hander is owed $17.875 million for 2011 and $18 million for '12. His contract also includes a vesting player option for $19.25 million for '13 that is activated if he finishes first or second in the '11 Cy Young Award vote or if Zambrano places in the top four in the '12 Cy Young balloting and is healthy at the end of the '12 season.
That's a lot of money, even for the Yankees, who were reportedly willing to give Lee $132 million over six years plus a player option for a seventh year.
The Yankees do have a Cubs connection, which has fueled the rumors. They hired pitching coach Larry Rothschild, who has been with the Cubs since 2002. Yankees manager Joe Girardi was a Cubs catcher in 2001-02 and Zambrano's teammate. The Yankees did sign former Cubs pitcher Mark Prior to a Minor League deal and they're still talking about re-signing Kerry Wood.
The New York Daily News reported Wednesday that the Yankees will target Zambrano for pitching help. There have been other reports about the Cubs listening to offers for Zambrano, but as of Wednesday, a team source said no team has contacted the Cubs about him.
At the end of the regular season, Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said Zambrano was staying put.
"I've never assumed that he really wanted to go," Hendry said on Oct. 3. "He earned the contract that he got. I've always assumed that he will be pitching for the Cubs. I'm glad he's righted the ship and had a really good end."
Zambrano is coming off a season of extremes. He was the Opening Day starter, then switched to relief after four outings because the Cubs needed help in the bullpen and had to make room for Ted Lilly, who was coming off the disabled list.
Zambrano was back in the rotation June 4 and made four starts before his tantrum June 25 at U.S. Cellular Field, which led to a three-game suspension and stint on the restricted list that lasted until July 31. When he returned, Zambrano was back in the bullpen for three appearances but finished the year in the rotation and went 8-0 with a 1.41 ERA in his final 11 games.
The Cubs' projected rotation includes Zambrano, Ryan Dempster, Tom Gorzelanny, Carlos Silva and Randy Wells. They also have youngsters like Casey Coleman, Chris Carpenter, Thomas Diamond and Chris Archer to be considered and the team may switch right-hander Andrew Cashner from the bullpen to the rotation. Plus, Jeff Samardzija, who was 11-3 with a 4.37 ERA at Triple-A Iowa, is out of options.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.