So the most-bandied-about-name in free agency this offseason has finally signed. Barry Zito will stay in California, but with the Giants, who were looking to add a franchise player to take over from the held-together-with-chewing-gum-and-bobby-pins Barry Bonds. From ESPN:
Barry Zito and the Giants reached a preliminary agreement on the largest pitcher contract in baseball history, a $126 million, seven-year deal…A source familiar with Zito’s contract told ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick that the agreement includes an $18 million option for 2014 with a $7 million buyout that could increase the value to $137 million. The option would become guaranteed if Zito pitches 200 innings in 2013, 400 combined over 2012 and 2013 or 600 combined from 2011-13. Zito also has a full no-trade clause.
While this is a lot of money and a risky number of years, the Giants were apparently willing to gamble on Zito’s durability. He’s made more than thirty starts for and thrown 200 innings for each of the last six seasons and has never missed a start.
Nevertheless, the cities that missed out—Texas and New York—aren’t exactly crying into their Cracker Jack.
Tim Cowlinshaw of the Dallas Morning News is urging Rangers fans to rejoice on missing out on Zito:
It’s easy to be fooled by the numbers. Zito’s were mostly good in 2006 – a 16-10 record, a 3.83 ERA that was his best since 2003.
He also had a career-high 99 walks. And it’s his numbers the last four years, since his 2002 Cy Young season, that provide a fuller picture of what the Giants are getting in return for that $126-million pledge.
Last year was the first time since 2002 that Zito had the best ERA on Oakland’s starting staff. First time he ranked higher than third, in fact.
Meanwhile, in New York, the papers reflect the frustration of Mets fans, who thought they had Zito in the bag. The New York Times:
[T]he Mets have now missed out on four pitchers this off-season — Daisuke Matsuzaka, Kei Igawa, Jeff Suppan and Zito. They were also unwilling to part with the prospects the Chicago White Sox desired to obtain Freddy García, who wound up going to their divisional rival, the Philadelphia Phillies.
But I have a feeling if the Mets had topped the Giants’ offer, New Yorkers wouldn’t exactly be dancing in the streets. While Omar Minaya was willing to offer a higher average annual salary than some of the other teams in the running, he was not willing to give the 28-year old pitcher a contract of more than five years. And to lure Zito away from his California home, the Mets would have had to meet Boras’s 7-year mark and top San Fran’s offer of $18 million per. That’s just nutty.
Nevertheless, Zito’s new home city has nothing but stars in its eyes (though maybe they’re just the dazed stars seen by someone who has just been hit on the head). From SFGate.com’s Gwen Knapp:
At last, the Giants showed some guts — and some brains directly attached to those newly fortified intestines.
It’s not the $126 million for Barry Zito that makes such an impression. It’s the seventh year on the contract.
No one else had the stomach for it. They bought the conventional wisdom that pitchers, no matter how young or durable, aren’t worth that kind of risk. History said no, don’t do it.
And Chronicle writer John Shea can barely contain his excitement:
Without Barry Zito, the Giants would have been considered a sub-.500 team, struggling for a third straight season in the feeble National League West.
No ace. No closer. No third hitter.
With Barry Zito, everything changes.
Well, that’s for sure. Pitching just got that much more expensive. While the Zito deal may look totally insane on its face, look at it in context. After all, proven-commodity pitching is a rare resource, one that every team needs. And this year is one of those bloated, top-dollar years that just happen from time to time in pro sports. Plus, it’s a market where no workhorse, no matter how old or broken, gets put out to pasture, and where a pitcher with no major league experience can command millions. Looked at like that, paying top dollar for a youngish guy with a solid arm doesn’t seem soooo crazy.
Just kinda loopy.