"My agent was talking to me, and he said the Cubs offered such an amount, and that's the first step of negotiations," Zambrano said Thursday. "Before, I think it was Tuesday or Monday and they hadn't offered anything. They were quiet."
Zambrano said the offer was for a long-term deal, and he wouldn't specify the amount. However, a team official said Thursday the Cubs have only set parameters and have not made a specific offer to the pitcher's agent.
After seeing free agent Barry Zito sign a seven-year, $126 million deal with the San Francisco Giants, it would appear to be tempting for Zambrano to test the free-agent market.
"No," Zambrano said. "Something around what San Francisco gave Zito, I think, is a fair deal for me. I don't say more, I don't say too [much] less, but close to what is in the market right now. Somebody opened the door and I don't want to shut it down. I don't want to close the door."
What may be more realistic are numbers that Roy Oswalt and Chris Carpenter got. Oswalt signed a five-year, $73 million deal, and Carpenter signed a five-year, $63.5 million contract.
"I would sign for five years, and they offered five years, so we're on the same page in negotiations," Zambrano said. "We have to see. I have six weeks more to think about it. Whatever happens, it's up to them."
Zambrano, expected to start Opening Day for the third straight year after a 16-7 season, is arbitration eligible and has requested $15.5 million. The Cubs have countered with $11.025 million, and a hearing is scheduled for Feb. 20 in Phoenix. The two sides could reach an agreement on a one-year deal before the hearing, and then work out a multi-year deal before Opening Day.
What is clear is that Zambrano wants to stay with the Cubs.
"I didn't say that if they don't sign me before the end of Spring Training that I will not sign with the Cubs," Zambrano said. "They have until the beginning of the season, because I don't want to talk about the contract during the season.
"This is the team that gave me the opportunity to play baseball since I was 16 years old," he said. "I want to stay here, like I said. But this is a business. If they don't want to sign me, if they don't want to spend money or whatever, or if they don't have enough money, it's OK with me. I want to sign with the Cubs. I don't want to talk about a contract during the season."
Both sides are prepared if they do have to have a hearing.
"This is normal," Zambrano said. "I'm not the first one to go to arbitration. Many good players go to arbitration, and they win or they lose or whatever. I'll still be part of the Cubs and I'll play hard like I always play. I will pitch the same way that I pitched last year and the five years before this year."
Zambrano, 26, who has a 64-42 career record and 3.29 ERA, would like all the talk to be about the season and the team, and even re-directed questions on Thursday to how he feels rather than contract talk. He found out that he'll be the Opening Day starter when he saw a story on the Cubs' Web site. Here's something Cubs fans want to hear: Zambrano thinks they can get to the World Series.
"I think every team in the big leagues thinks about a World Series," he said. "You can see last year, the Detroit Tigers, nobody was counting on them and they went to the World Series."
Zambrano was in Chicago earlier this week to film a commercial with White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski.
"The guy is a nice guy," Zambrano said of Pierzynski. "Just like me, when he crosses the white line, he has a job to do. He's a good guy. He was a real nice guy."
Right now, Zambrano is meeting the new players, doing his drills, and hoping he won't have to talk about his contract any more.
"I just want to play baseball, I just want to pitch," he said.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.