Thursday, December 28, 2006

Baseball been Barry, Barry good to him

Smacking a nail into the coffin of their reputation as one of the more penurious clubs in baseball — except when it comes to a certain slugging left fielder — the Giants today reached an agreement with former Oakland Athletics star Barry Zito on a seven-year, $126 million free agent contract.

It's the largest contract ever signed by a major league pitcher, eclipsing the pact Mike Hampton snagged from the Colorado Rockies in 2001. (Everyone in Denver remembers how well that turned out. [Snicker.]) It's also the biggest money the Giants have ever shelled out, surpassing the $90 million deal Barry Bonds completed last season.

Is Zito worth the money? Hard to predict, but my guess is that he will be. Factors in favor of the deal's success:
  • The Giants just lost their staff ace, Jason Schmidt, to free agency, and desperately needed a Number One starter. Zito was by far the best pitcher available.
  • Zito is a proven innings-eater with a history of sound health (knock wood). He hasn't missed a start in seven years.
  • Unlike the flamethrowing Schmidt, Zito is a breaking ball specialist in the mode of Greg Maddux, who's still throwing well at 40. Zito's only 28, and with his pitching style, he should still be effective seven years from now.
  • Zito's already won a Cy Young Award (American League, 2002), and coming to a league more accustomed to power pitchers than finesse artists, might have a couple more in his future.
  • Zito won't have to be The Man all by himself. The Giants already have three solid starting pitchers — Matt Morris, Matt Cain, and Noah Lowry — to surround him in the rotation.
  • Zito's a popular local guy who's already a star here in the Bay Area. He won't even have to move.
  • He's left-handed. The baseball gods love a southpaw.
Too bad Barry Larkin is retired. The way the Giants throw money at guys named Barry, he'd clean up.

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