The Barry Zito deal was supposed to help the team in the short-term, but be a disaster in the long-term. Going into 2007, the team was counting on Ray Durham, Rich Aurilia, and Omar Vizquel to repeat their 2006 production and provide just enough offense to support Barry Bonds.
SPOILER ALERT (highlight the text with your mouse to reveal a spoiler about the 2007 season): It didn’t work out.
In hindsight, the folks who were clamoring for a complete dismantling of the Giants after the 2005 season – Bonds or no – were right. But while I never understood the Dave Roberts contract, I wasn’t totally against the last gasp at respectability with guys like Durham, Aurilia, and Ryan Klesko. Bonds had one season left, so even though any shot at contention relied on old-timers repeating past glories, I (wrongly) thought the rewards outweighed the risks.
Zito fit into that mindset. The contract was an obvious stinker from day one, but in the short-term it wasn’t crazy to think he’d help the If Brigade contend. If Aurilia repeated his road numbers from 2006, if Durham repeated his 2006, if Klesko could add anything to the first base mix, if Bonds stayed healthy, and if, if, if, then, sure, it’d be nice to have a quality starter like Zito around. We’d start worrying about 2013 in 2012.
Now we have the worst of all worlds. If you were frothing at the mouth because of his declining strikeout rate, you get bonus mock-GM points, but Zito’s strikeout rate in 2006 wasn’t too far off from 2005’s rate, and that 2006 K-rate was actually better than in 2003. In between, Zito kept pumping out seasons with an ERA+ above 100 in 200+ innings. The decline in strikeouts was a red flag when considering a seven-year deal, for sure, but it wasn’t a harbinger of a total immolation within the first two years.
The problem is that Zito left his league-average fastball in Oakland. He isn’t hurt; at least, not that we know of. There isn’t a noticeable difference in his mechanics. So he’ll just keep going out there and getting slapped around like Kirk Rueter in his end days. The Giants won’t consider Zito to be a sunk cost, as they have five more years to figure out if he can get his fastball back.
SPOILER ALERT (highlight the text with your mouse to reveal a spoiler about pitchers): Pitchers generally never get their fastballs back once the fastballs are gone.
There’s nothing the Giants can do. Moving him to the bullpen won’t help. Even if the front office understands the concept that the Giants can pay Zito $100M to hurt the team or $100M to go away, it’s still way too premature to give up on him. The team can’t trade him. They can’t ask him to fake an injury and let him rest for a year. Nothing makes sense. This might be the ugliest situation the franchise has ever faced.
If the Giants aren’t going anywhere soon – and most of us agree that they aren’t – we’ll just have to think of Zito the same way we think of Jose Castillo or Dan Ortmeier: They aren’t likely to help the club ever contend, but this is the time to find out. Keep throwing Zito out there. When the Giants start to sniff contention, the Giants will need to consider some scorched-roster alternatives. For now, at least Zito is helping the Giants’ draft position.