Zambrano is still only 30 years old and may very well have some productive years left. If he can just behave himself, if he can just keep his composure, he could be a part of something special in South Florida.
Zambrano has a chance to be among a group of players -- Jose Reyes, Heath Bell, Mark Buehrle -- with an opportunity to help reinvent a franchise. If he can't succeed in this situation, he may never succeed. His friendship with new Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen should help, too.
Instead of being the No. 1 guy -- the guy expected to stop losing streaks and set an example -- Zambrano will just be a guy. Josh Johnson is the ace in South Florida, followed closely by Buehrle. All Zambrano will be expected to do is take the ball and do the things he did so well in those early years with the Cubs.
If Zambrano takes a step back and sees how this deal is structured, it should be the harshest of wakeup calls. The Cubs wanted him gone so badly that they will pay $15.5 million of his $18 million salary in 2012.
The Marlins will say all the right things about getting Zambrano back on track and how he can still do great things. But they're risking very little.
Despite the money, it's a deal that makes sense for the Cubs. Epstein is building a new culture, and he was unwilling to risk more Zambrano meltdowns. Epstein saw Zambrano as not worth the trouble and potentially too much of a distraction. In doing so, he's sending a message these new Cubs simply aren't going to tolerate bad behavior.
It hasn't been that long since Zambrano was one of the National League's best pitchers. Memories of that Zambrano have faded, because he has struggled so badly in recent years. It's not just that he has pitched poorly, that his ERA is up and his strikeouts are down.