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Taking a mulligan on Barry Zito's contract

From the 10/2/10 game. I'm not sure I've ever been angrier at a pitcher. - photo credit
From the 10/2/10 game. I'm not sure I've ever been angrier at a pitcher. - photo credit
Ezra Shaw

Less than a year ago, Barry Zito started Game 1 of the World Series. That was because the NLCS went seven games, sure. But even without context, that's an amazing sentence. He also got an RBI single off Justin Verlander, who hasn't been the same pitcher this year. Probably because of what Zito did. That's our Zito. He wins championships, and he topples giants. Also, Giants. Especially this year.

But there's about to be a farewell party. It's already started, actually. People are calling for Zito to be DFA'd or released or ground into soylent green, even though there's less than a month left on the contract. But he's staying. The Giants probably won't get him a parting gift like the Rays did with Mariano Rivera …


… but they're probably not interested in humiliating Zito. The money is owed. The team isn't winning anything this. Zito will ride into the sunset on a three-legged burro named "Clops." The burro will be carrying sacks and sacks of ingot.

This Rob Neyer fellow wrote about Zito and his contract here, and he came to the conclusion that, with the benefit of hindsight, everything sure worked out fine. This is the general consensus, I think, and I've written about it before, but I've still heard talk-radio arguments and seen talking-head segments on the subject. Some people still don't think the contract is justified. So I wanted a poll. A definitive, legally binding poll.

Two options:

Option #1: Nothing changes

You get the ups and downs and straight downs of Barry Zito for seven years. You tolerate him, you despise him, you tolerate him again, you appreciate him, you fete him as a postseason hero, and then you mourn his presence all over again. Zito is better than the Todd Wellemeyer-type who would have taken his spot in 2010, so he contributed to one championship. Zito was Bob Gibson in the 2012 playoffs, so he clearly contributed to that one. There's ticker tape and Blu-ray box sets.

But there's also a lot of money that isn't allocated to better players. There are also a lot of Zito starts. An unfathomable amount of Zito starts. Slider outside. Fastball just low. Curveball for a strike. Fastball just low. Slider fouled off. Double.

It's been hard to watch. There have been good times. But when you start thinking about the less than good times, you start to twitch. We're way, way beyond the FDA recommended limits to Zito exposure. We'll see what that does to us in 20 years.

Option #2: Everything changes

Maybe instead, the Giants got CC Sabathia. Or Matt Holliday. Maybe they got a player who is winding down in 2013, but who gave his team a heckuva lot of value for a couple years.

And maybe the Giants win in 2009 and 2010. Maybe they win in 2009 and 2011. Buster Posey doesn't get hurt because the not-Zito is affecting the sequence of baseball events that led to Scott Cousins scoring. Maybe the Giants win four straight World Series because they had Sabathia instead of Zito. They'd probably come a lot closer to four straight playoff appearances, at least.

But there are no guarantees. Maybe the Giants spend the Zito money on Oliver Perez or Derek Lowe. Or even if they spend it on Sabathia, maybe the Braves jump all over him in the NLDS. If the money goes to a top-market first baseman, they don't need Aubrey Huff. Everything is different.

Possibly for the better. The odds are great that if the Giants didn't have Zito's contract, they could have built teams that were more likely to win the World Series before every season.

But you give up the guarantee that they win two.

If you're not already aware of how I stand on this position, I'm not telling. Don't want to taint the poll. Which sounds like an occupational hazard for exotic dancers, but it's too early for McCovey Chronicles After Dark, so stop that!

Remember: If you go with option #2, you lose this, too. And that. Oh, man, that.