When I first heard about the Barry Zito signing I was watching ESPN waiting for the Holiday Bowl to come on (roll on, you Bears, and so forth). It seemed pretty ridiculous to me at first, and I wasn't surprised to read the next morning that most of the guys who are paid to have opinions on this sort of thing felt the same. With further contemplation, I'm not sure that the Giants' contract with Zito is the worst thing in the world. Oddly, it's the deal's eye-opening number of guaranteed years that makes all the difference.
San Francisco is not going to be very good for the next few seasons. They don't have a farm system to speak of, and their offense is terrible past Barry Bonds, who will maybe play 3 1/2 games a week next year. Signing a guy like Zito to a three- or four-year deal wouldn't do them much good. But signing him now to a seven-year deal? Who knows? They'll at least be appearing to make an effort to remain competitive over the next couple of lean campaigns, and then in a few years' time (or sooner with some lucky trades) they might manage to get some hitters to add to a pretty nice little rotation. If present trends continue pitchers of Zito's caliber will soon be getting $20 million-plus per season on the open market.
I don't agree with the argument made by guys like Steve Phillips that the fact that Zito has somehow managed to pitch all of this time without getting significantly injured means he's all the more likely to do so now and indeed very soon. If anything, it seems that the ability to stay healthy is a skill, and one for which it's worth paying a premium. If, indeed, $17 million per or whatever it is is a premium any longer. That's kind of what was bugging me about the Jason Jennings trade, and I don't know how well I articulated it in past posts. You can scream to high heaven about how every free agent pitcher is getting hugely overpaid, but eventually, you have to face facts. If for Milwaukee and Kansas City just as well as Anaheim and the Cubs starters who don't completely suck get signed for $12 million a year at the very least, then that is the going rate. That's what they cost. People complain about the price of gas, but they still have to fill up their cars. If the Rockies are systematically incapable of paying the price for non-sucky starters, they won't have any, and that's kind of going to be a hurdle for their future hopes of contention. In the neighborhood of major league cities, Denver is rapidly becoming the weird clannish family on the corner who keeps their only car up on blocks in the backyard.