PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies woke up Wednesday morning 19-21, but just 3 1/2 games behind the Braves in the National League East.
As inconsistent as they have been, they believe they have a shot to make the postseason.
So they took a chance Wednesday and signed talented but controversial right-hander Carlos Zambrano to a Minor League deal. Zambrano will report to Clearwater, Fla., where he will begin working out in extended Spring Training. He has until July 1 to prove himself before he can exercise an opt-out clause in his contract.
"No promises were made, but this was just an opportunity to add some starting pitching depth," Phillies assistant general manager Scott Proefrock said.
Zambrano went 7-10 with a 4.49 ERA in 35 appearances (20 starts) last season with the Marlins. He is 132-91 with a 3.66 ERA in a career spent mostly with the Cubs, but he has become notorious for his outbursts, which have involved fights with teammates like Derrek Lee and Michael Barrett, battered water coolers and criticism of fans. He has been suspended twice as a result.
But if Zambrano shows he has enough in his right arm to help the Phillies, they are willing to take a shot. They need help with right-hander Roy Halladay having shoulder surgery Wednesday in Los Angeles. Halladay said he hopes to pitch again this season, but that is no guarantee.
"We got a feel for his desire to come back and his sincerity about that and what kind of condition he's had to put himself in," Proefrock said about Zambrano. "Again, it's a Minor League deal. It's not like we're signing him to a $90 million deal like the Cubs did. You still want to make sure you get a guy that's committed and will conduct himself appropriately. As far as we're concerned that was satisfied."
The Phillies watched Zambrano throw Monday in Miami, and apparently liked what they saw. Zambrano could not find a team to sign him in the offseason, but he pitched in winter ball and participated with Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic.
Since then he has continued working out, hoping a team would give him a shot.
"Jorge Valandia, one of our instructors in the Minor Leagues, was a GM with that club [in Winter Ball] and had some interaction with him," Proefrock said. "We got positive feedback with everyone who has interacted with him recently. Again, we're just looking to add some depth and some experience. We did our due diligence as we always do. It's just good business.
"One of the things that happened to us in the offseason, once we signed [John] Lannan, we pursued a lot of different guys to give ourselves some starting pitching depth in Triple-A. Scott Kazmir was a guy that we tried to sign to a Minor League deal. Once we signed Lannan and had five Major League pitchers on the staff, it's tough to sign that kind of guy and say that you have an opportunity for him. Would we have done this without Roy? I can't say we wouldn't have because we've talked about it with other guys in that situation to add some depth and experience in Triple-A. It's low risk, hopefully high reward."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com.