When Barry Zito signed with the Giants in 2007, it was a coup. Why shouldn’t it be? He was a Cy Young award winner with a curve ball that looked like it was falling off the dinning room table. Zito was in the prime of his career. Big named markets, including New York, courted him. Barry Zito couldn’t be beat. San Francisco had a bright future on its hands.
That future became a nightmare quite quickly. In six years with the San Francisco Giants, his ERA ballooned an entire run. From 2007 to 2011, he posted a loosing record for the first time in his career. He was riddled with injuries, loss of speed and rumors that batters had begun to pick up his once unhittable curve ball. 9 years out of a Cy Young award winning season, Barry Zito was getting booed out of town.
He came to a crossroad. Reinvent him self or find room next to Mark Mulder on “Baseball Tonight”. Once a part of the “Tres Aces” of Oakland, the once promising trio (Zito, Mulder and Tim Hudson) were split up and looking at the distinct possibility that only one of them (Tim Hudson) would last a decade in the game.
Barry Zito, power curve ball pitcher, became a finesse pitcher with location. “Pitchers that stay in shape, especially left-handers, seem to have ways to reinvent themselves,” Brian Sabean (Giants General Manager) said to MLB.com. With Zito’s reversal in 2012, he finished 15-8. More miraculously, he did something he never could do in his Oakland A’s “hey-day.” He was a relevant contributor to their post season run. He added two more victories in the postseason, basically saving San Francisco and allowing them to go on the run they did. Two years earlier, he wasn’t even on the team’s postseason roster.
I am a self-proclaimed “Zito-phile” with an Oakland jersey I no longer have to wear ironically. I must admit that even I was shocked, when in October, Barry Zito actually created the possibility that the Giants might want him to stick around longer. With Zito’s contract coming to an end this year, Barry Zito and the Giants could be involved in an activity that would have been unimaginable in 2011 – retaining him. The door is now wide open, and why shouldn’t it be, for the left-hander to be kept on for an additional season, or to even negotiate an extension.
Zito and the Giants have reached the seventh and final year of his $126 million contract, which culminates this season with a $20 million salary. Zito’s performance this season will determine whether the Giants pick up an $18 million option on his services for 2014. They also can buy him out for $7 million. Even Sabean now acknowledges that keeping Zito beyond this year is within the realm of possibility.
Said Zito to MLB.com, “This is where I want to be. I would love to play baseball in San Francisco until I’m happy riding off into the sunset.” If Zito can prove that last year was not an anomaly, than he can prove a priceless member of the pitching staff. Although no longer an ace on a staff of aces, Zito can be that veteran leadership and presence to younger talent, such as Tim Lincecum. Strong veteran presence is at a premium today, ask the Blue Jays and RA Dickey. It’s worthy investment, especially when that veteran still has some pop on the ball and hasn’t turned 35 yet.