The Cubs signed the animated right-handed pitcher to a five-year, $91.5 million contract with a vesting option for a sixth year, presenting him with the highest average salary awarded to a pitcher in a multi-year contract in Major League history.
"We all know there were bigger pots of gold out there for him," Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said on Friday when he announced the deal. "It's a great example of a young man talking the talk and walking the walk. He was not leaving the Cubs. This is where he wanted to be. Carlos has always assured me he wanted to stay here and he wanted to win here."
Zambrano would have been a free agent after this season. Now, he has a chance to be one of those rare players who stays with the same team for his entire career. The deal does include a full no-trade clause, and the sixth year would pay him $19.25 million.
"Carlos never wavered in what he wanted to do," Hendry said.
The two sides were close to completing a deal by Opening Day, which Zambrano had asked for. But talks were suspended when the Tribune Co. announced it was selling the ballclub. Zambrano's agent, Barry Praver, said that the Cubs had two unsuccessful attempts at striking a new deal and endured a change in team presidents as well as the sale of the team.
"One thing that has remained constant is Carlos' burning desire to stay with the Cubs," Praver said.
Did Zambrano ever think a deal wouldn't get done?
"No," Zambrano said. "I trust the Cubs and I trust the word Jim Hendry gave to me in Spring Training. He said he'll do everything possible to bring me back and I can stay here. I believed in his word."
"This was a very complicated situation," Hendry said. "It was bad timing -- it's nobody's fault. As tough as it was on Carlos to have the magnitude of the deal not concluded by Opening Day, I never saw in him that he didn't understand why. I'm sure there were frustrations. It would've been a lot easier for him to say, 'I'll give you a good shot in November, but I'm going to see what's out there.' It's a good ending to what we wished we could've finished in March."
Included in the $91.5 million figure is a $5 million signing bonus. In order for the option year to vest, Zambrano has to finish in first or second place in the Cy Young voting in the fourth year of the contract (2011) or finish 1-2-3-4 in the Cy Young voting in the fifth year of the contract. If either situation happens, the option kicks in and Zambrano then has the choice as to whether he wants to accept or reject the sixth year. There also is a stipulation that he has to be healthy after the fifth year.
Barry Zito signed a seven-year, $126 million contract with the San Francisco Giants, an average annual value of $18 million. Zambrano's deal has an average annual value of $18.3 million.
Hendry and Praver resumed negotiations over the past 10-12 days and had hoped to finalize details before the pitcher's start on Tuesday against the Reds. In that game, Zambrano gave up six runs on 13 hits and two walks over seven innings and was unsuccessful in his third try to win his 15th game. When he grounded out in the game, he flung his helmet to the ground in frustration. It was obvious that something wasn't right.
"I say no, but I think it was something on my mind and I was thinking about that," Zambrano said. "Now, I have a fresh mind and I'm ready to go and I'm ready to lead this team to the World Series."
The parameters of the deal would have been similar if Zambrano had signed in Spring Training, Hendry said. He was encouraged that the Tribune Co. supported him in keeping Zambrano.
"I think [Tribune Co. CEO] Dennis [FitzSimons] realized he wanted to make sure the franchise was in the best possible situation," Hendry said. "It's no secret we couldn't replace Carlos. I didn't have the appetite to be on the free-agent pitching market all winter.
"We certainly expect him to be a No. 1 starter, and he's hitting the age where he's going to be better," Hendry said. "It was imperative in moving forward that we kept him in the fold for five years and continue to build homegrown pitching around him and fill in the missing pieces."
Zambrano (14-9, 3.86 ERA), who will make his next start on Sunday night at Wrigley Field against the St. Louis Cardinals, was thrilled to complete the negotiations.
"I feel happy right now, I feel comfortable right now but it's not enough," Zambrano said. "I have a mission to complete. I have a way to go with my teammates to lead this team to the promised land. That will complete the mission."
Zambrano got off to a slow start this season, and some believed that the lack of a new deal was the problem. On June 1, Zambrano scuffled with then-Cubs catcher Michael Barrett in the dugout, but after that game, he went on a roll.
"Big Z" won National League Pitcher of the Month honors in July with a 5-1, 1.38 ERA month, and is 9-4 since June 1. Should he earn his 15th win on Sunday, Zambrano would lead the National League.
There are plenty of teams that would've been interested in adding Zambrano, and he could've signed for more money.
"Not everything is about money," Zambrano said. "I feel comfortable here, I feel good here, my family feels good here, my wife. This is my town, my home, my city. I love Chicago, I love the Cubs. Jim's known me since I was 16 years old. I'd like to stay here. Thank God, I can stay here a longer time."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.