Back in December of 2006, I packed up and went on a European vacation with a few friends. The trip was great. The only problem was the timing: at our departure, Barry Zito was still a free agent, and he seemed to be narrowing his options. One of those options? My beloved Seattle Mariners, whose money was burning a bigger hole in their pocket than the hole in their starting rotation. I was terrified the M's would cave in and give Zito a nine-figure contract he very much didn't deserve, and I was terrified that I'd find out in an internet cafe and my month would be ruined.
That didn't happen. Oh, the M's tried - they offered $100 million - but I found out while unpacking in a smoky Parisian hostel that the Giants had swooped in and outbid them, winning Zito for a cool $126 million. One figured they'd regret it almost immediately ... and if they didn't regret it then, they certainly do now.
Writes Bruce Jenkins:
A source close to the team indicated Tuesday that there is "exasperation" with Zito, that his status as the No. 5 starter is "definitely not safe," and that the team would even consider buying out his expensive contract before Opening Day if that's what it takes to say farewell.
Remember that, at the time, the Giants gave Zito the biggest contract ever given to a pitcher. The structure:
2007: $10 million
2008: $14.5 million
2009: $18.5 million
2010: $18.5 million
2011: $18.5 million
2012: $19 million
2013: $20 million
2014: $18 million option ($7 million buyout)
Now remember that Zito was left off the Giants' postseason roster last year as they won the NL West and eventually the World Series. You don't leave a near-$20 million pitcher off your postseason roster if you're satisfied with his performance; it's been evident for a while that the Giants aren't thrilled with their investment.
So now this rumor that the team could eat the rest of his contract. Zito's due $57.5 million through 2013 and another $7 million in 2014, assuming a buyout, meaning the rumor has the Giants mulling over the possibility of eating $64.5 million and cutting bait. Drastic? You better believe it, and that's reason enough to assume they won't do it.
While Zito isn't what the Giants hoped he would be, the fact of the matter is that he has made 131 starts in the past four years, and his ERA over the past two is 4.09. That's a better ERA than, say, John Lackey, or Jorge de la Rosa. Zito is paid way, way too much for what he is, but he isn't out-and-out bad, and there's no better in-house replacement, so it doesn't make sense right now to drop him. A trade? Sure, if you can find a willing partner, but Zito doesn't look like a good candidate to get released. Not unless he struggles again like he did in 2008.
The Giants have their concerns about Zito, and the fans don't like him a whole lot, but I just can't see the team eating the rest of his salary. Not now. What I can see is that they orchestrated a leak to the media, in an effort to maybe light a fire under Zito's ass, since this is sure to grab his attention or the attention of people he knows. But that's a different thing and it's also just a guess. I won't pretend to know how anonymous sources work.
If Barry Zito comes out and sucks, the Giants may go ahead and drop him outright. Because of the size of their investment, though, and because Zito's currently an average pitcher, nothing crazy's going to happen until or unless that happens. It isn't good business.