The Cubs gave their approval for on-the-outs pitcher Carlos Zambrano to pitch during the winter season in Venezuela, where he's expected to make his season debut this weekend and make nine starts in all.
``Actually, I think it's a good thing under the circumstances,'' team president Theo Epstein said. ``He probably needs the innings and it could be good for his state of mind to get out there and perform.''
Zambrano, who has a year left on his contract at $18 million, hasn't pitched for the Cubs since packing his belongings and quitting on the team after being left in a game to get hammered Aug. 12 in Atlanta.
He was placed on the disqualified list and later told to spend the final weeks of the season away from the team, with pay. He finished the season with 145 2/3 innings.
During a national TV broadcast in September, chairman Tom Ricketts said he didn't envision Zambrano pitching for the Cubs again.
Epstein, who said the Cubs have a scout monitoring Zambrano's work and performance in Venezuela, said he plans to talk with Zambrano for the first time sometime within the next week.
He has conspicuously left open the door for Zambrano to return in an apparent attempt to keep alive any semblance of a possible trade market for as much of the former ace's contract as the Cubs might be able to move.