(Part One of Two)
I recently read an interesting article on www.bleacherreport.com, one of the top sites around for sports insight and humor. The article’s topic: MLB’s worst free agent signings over the last 25 years, based on non-production and the signing’s on-field and financial detriment to the club. The absence of Mo Vaughn notwithstanding, just about every name and slotting on that list was on point. Just about.
I did not agree with the list’s topper—our own Barry Zito—at all. Of all the bloated contracts given to undeserving and unproductive major leaguers dating back to the mid-1980’s, Zito’s was ranked the worst. No, he hasn’t lived up to his $126 million deal. Short of winning 20 annually, I don’t think he could have. Naming Zito the #1 free-agent mistake in the last quarter-century isn’t fair (in my opinion) and neither is calling his output “dreadful”.
Just listen to what I have to say first before raining down the castigation and ridicule…
Let’s travel back to the year 2006, namely its’ conclusion. The Giants finished 76-85, their 2nd straight losing season. Barry Bonds was not Barry Bonds until the final weeks of the year. J.T. Snow was gone; Jason Schmidt was as good as gone. They lost a respected leader, Mike Matheny to early retirement in May after one too many cage-rattlings. Matt Cain had wrapped just his first full MLB season. Tim Lincecum turned in a half-season of low A ball, his first pro experience. Buster Posey hadn’t even been drafted yet. Armando Benitez was still our nominal “closer,” which is to say we were “closer” to a loss once he entered a game. Felipe Alou was the lamest of lame-duck managers. Oh—and our pals the Dodgers won the N.L. West for the 2nd time in 3 years, using several of our former heroes and our former assistant GM to help them get there.
To summarize: there was little reason to cheer for the Orange and Black going into 2007.
It’s hard to imagine now, as we only recently began our collective descent from our Championship high, one which effectively erased any and all trying times leading up to (and even during) the 2010 season.
Were it not for Bonds’ home run record chase—which, let’s face it, didn’t draw us all in the way it should have—there was little to no reason to talk about the Giants. Today, if you don a Giants cap and you pass a fellow with a Giants cap, you smile and maybe even speak: “Yeah, man I was at the parade, too! Where were you?” Or something similar. Four years ago, same situation: you both solemnly lower your heads and silently proceed, almost ashamed at your expressed support of such a hopeless cause.
If I knew that the Giants had (once again) fallen behind the derivative Athletics and their garbage dump of a ballpark, their marginal budget, a flimsy fanbase and 96 wins (including postseason) as THE preferred Bay Area baseball team; the team Joe CasualFan would buy a ticket to see, surely the Giants’ front office—from GM Brian Sabean to President Larry Baer on up to Peter McGowan (who was still in place as managing general partner) knew it, too. And they weren’t about to let it last—not when AT&T Park still had years of $20 million annual debt attached to it.
The team had to make a move NOW; waiting around for their gimpy, moody, bloated left fielder to possibly break the home run record in unpopular fashion wasn’t going to be enough—a point driven home when they went hard after Carlos Lee and Alfonso Soriano, both left fielders (like Bonds) and the biggest free agents of the 2006-07 class. Both players signed elsewhere, basically forcing the team to overpay for another year of Bonds while pretending that’s what they wanted all along.
That’s where Barry Zito entered the picture.
From a purely baseball standpoint, there was no reason in the world to not sign Zito. No human alive would argue that a 28-year-old pitcher, with a lifetime record of 102-63, 3.55 career ERA in the American League during the tail end of the steroids era, 4 seasons removed from a Cy Young Award, with 5 postseasons under his belt and nary an hour spent on the disabled list, was not worth locking up for a long time.
(see Part Two to be posted soon…)
About the Author
Written by Joseph Davis
I've been a Giants' fan since 1990; I still remember my first game at Candlestick as if it were yesterday (Robby Thompson homered and the Giants downed Houston 7-3). Pushed for us to get that elusive championship and at last we GOT IT! You can see me on the softball field every week sporting my orange and black, and I'm raising my little girl to not follow in her A's-fan-mom's footsteps!