The Carlos Zambrano trade was viewed as a matter of when not if and realistically only one team would be a match.
It comes as no surprise that the Cubs are on the verge of sending Zambrano and 15 million to the Miami Marlins as part of a package for 25-year-old pitcher Chris Volstad.
Zambrano will be taking his talents to South Beach because of the strength of his relationship with Ozzie Guillen. No other manager would be so willing to take on the explosive, enigmatic pitcher.
The entire industry knows Zambranos greatest hits slamming Gatorade coolers, fighting with Michael Barrett, going after Derrek Lee, walking out on his teammates last season.
But there was Guillen, walking quickly through the lobby of the Hilton Anatole during last months winter meetings in Dallas. Trailed by reporters, Guillen explained how he had a bet with a friend that Zambrano will win more than 14 games for the Cubs in 2012.
Now if they trade him, well, Id take it, Guillen said while being hustled to yet another media stop.
The inevitable deal first reported by Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports on Wednesday and confirmed by CSNChicagos David Kaplan was ultimately just going to be about the details. Volstad is a former first-round pick whos eligible for arbitration and wont become a free agent until after the 2014 season.
The Cubs had moved on long ago, with ownership giving Theo Epstein the authority to eat the money on a sunk cost. The new president of baseball operations has preached all about accountability and clubhouse chemistry.
A rebuilding organization didnt need Zambrano taking up all the oxygen in the room. Even people close to Zambrano admitted that he could use a fresh start somewhere else, and predicted he would be hungry to prove himself all over again.
Zambrano did seem to enjoy living and playing in Chicago, even if he had strange ways of showing it. Signed as a 16-year-old kid out of Venezuela, he has spent almost half his life in the Cubs organization.
Zambrano held the hammer of full no-trade protection. But waiving those rights figured to be a formality with Guillen involved.
The good friends remained in regular communication throughout the offseason. Their families are close. They have shot commercials together back home in Venezuela.
The Marlins need rotation help, which makes paying a fourth-starter-type 3 million this season a low-risk proposition. (The contract also includes a 19.25 million long-shot vesting option for 2013, though thats only if Zambrano finishes this season healthy and among the top four in the Cy Young vote.)
For a team that has struggled to break through the clutter in the Miami market and is about to move into a brand-new stadium in Little Havana this is also another way to generate buzz.
The theory is that Guillen will be there to challenge Zambrano to stay focused and channel all that adrenaline.
Zambrano has a very good sense of humor, teasing reporters and making movie references to Rocky IV and RoboCop. People inside the Cubs organization talked about his genuine feel for his family and charitable causes.
But the Cubs also swore that the money changed Zambrano almost as soon as he signed a five-year, 91.5 million extension during the middle of the 2007 season.
It all boiled over again one night last August, when the Atlanta Braves hammered Zambrano, who threw at Chipper Jones, packed up his stuff and left Turner Field during the middle of the game. In another moment of frustration, he began telling people that he felt like he was stealing money and thinking about retirement.
It was a safe bet that Zambrano who had a 4.82 ERA when he was effectively suspended had thrown his last pitch in a Cubs uniform. He exits with a 125-81 career record in Chicago and 1,542 strikeouts, which ranks second in franchise history.
On paper, those are good numbers, but Zambrano hasnt accounted for more than 200 innings since 2007. Hes freakishly athletic, a gifted soccer player and switch-hitter who just happened to be built like an NFL defensive end. Maybe he can put it all together for one season in Miami.
But it wasnt going to happen on the North Side. There are enough holdovers from the Jim Hendry administration that Epstein knew all about Zambranos act, how many times he had to say sorry.
Surely Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and manager Dale Sveum noticed that they were asked about Zambrano just about any time a microphone was put in front of their faces. Why make that the narrative?
You know what the story will be when the Cubs visit Miami April 17-19, and when the Marlins come to Wrigley Field July 17-19.
Zambrano was gold for the Chicago media. The Cubs world will be a far less interesting place without him. But in the end, both sides needed this divorce.