…ESPECIALLY when you realize Cliff Lee, the 2011 free agent headliner, is 102-61, 3.85 in his career, with a WHIP slightly higher than Zito’s when he hit the market. Unlike Zito, Lee HAS missed starts due to injury; several of them. Oh—and he is four years older than Zito was! It amazes me that hardly anyone acknowledges the statistical similarities between the two, or even raises the possibility that Lee could well lose his touch as Zito did for long stretches.
I’m not knocking Lee AT ALL; he’s been great and will hopefully continue to be great against every non-San Francisco team. I’m just using the back of his baseball card as a comparative example of the type of pitcher San Fran thought they were signing that ’06 winter. If the Giants had one or more rotation holes and a legit shot at signing Cliff Lee this off-season, and they didn’t take it, wouldn’t you the Giants fan want all executives to take a one-way trip to the guillotine? If the Giants had not signed, or at least done everything TO sign, Barry Zito, a pitcher whose Oakland resume practically mirrored Cliff Lee’s—especially with Schmidt gone—could you the Giants fan have accepted it and moved on? Not knowing he’d only give you the Zito you expected roughly 33% of the time? Be honest. You wouldn’t have liked it, especially upon some AAA stiff impersonating a big leaguer getting his ass kicked start after start that #75 could have been making.
The Giants had been burned by Carlos Lee. Burned by Soriano. Ditched by Schmidt (though in hindsight his defection was appreciated). Reduced to bringing back former heroes Rich Aurilia and Russ Ortiz, who only resembled their previous All-Star selves. Forced to re-sign Bonds, Feliz and Ray Durham (who’d been a rare 2006 bright spot) while returning most of the same ho-hum uninspiring 2006 bunch.
Money be damned, a “splash” had to be made with a very big fish. Someone was going to be grotesquely overpaid in the name of franchise credibility and fan hope. If that outcome was inevitable, why not dole out dollars to a local hero with a sparkling resume and no health issues, who’s used to winning and still in his prime (unlike almost every other name free agent imported in the 2000’s)? Again, from a baseball standpoint, there was no reason not to sign Zito. The Giants overpaid for him on purpose to guarantee he wouldn’t burn them as the others did. Of course the Mets and the Rangers weren’t going to pay him that kind of dough. Neither one of those clubs needed him that bad.
We all know Zito hasn’t consistently been an (average annual) $18M performer, especially in 2007-2008. Many forget, however, in the 2nd half of 2009 and first half of 2010, he was as good as he’s ever been—forgettable because Zito grouped a whole season worth of slump into 2010’s stretch run, ending up with the stigma only an $18M postseason cheerleader can carry. But to say he is THE worst free-agent signing since 1985 when you have guys like Schmidt (who took 3 years, $47 million from the Dodgers to go 3-6 in 10 total starts) Denny Neagle (who took 5 years, $51 million from Colorado to go 19-23, 6-something ERA before getting caught with a hooker and having his final two years terminated) or Carl Pavano (who, after ONE good season, took 4 years, $40 million from the Yankees to go 9-8, 5.00 in 26 total starts, while lying about injuries which mounted so often even his own teammates questioned their legitimacy) is wholly unjustified. Ryan Rudnansky is a good, knowledgeable writer, but he didn’t get this call right.
Unlike those samples and several unlisted others, Barry Zito has never been hurt and never refused to take the ball, even when being booed at home. He’s been nothing but exemplary off the field. In his spare time he’s running Strikeouts For Troops, not soliciting women of the night. By ALL accounts he is an extraordinary worker and never blamed anyone or anything for his struggles -even when he had a case to do so.
He’s not the worst free agent signing of the last 25, 20, 15, 10 or even 5 years. (Not that I’m here to talk about the past.)
No maybe about it: I will stand by Zito. What good would booing do? If that were effective, he’d have been righted back in May of 2007! I’m not going to be the classless prick in my vicinity who chanted “What’s the matter with Zito? HE’S A BUM!” during the World Series parade. As long as he works hard and sports the Giants colors—which he will for at least the next two years—I will support him. Besides, if Todd Wellemeyer taught us anything in 2010, we could easily do worse for a 5th starter. JD
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!