When Barry Zito signed the most lucrative pitching contract in baseball history (at the time), few expected him to live up to his lofty new salary. Just four seasons into his seven-year $126 million deal, one San Francisco writer isreporting Zito might be on the verge of getting cut. According to the article, the San Francisco Giants have grown “exasperated” with Zito, and would consider buying out his contract before the season starts. There’s no doubt Zito has failed to live up to expectations with the Giants, but giving Zito his walking papers would be a poor decision.
From a financial standpoint, it’s tough to justify releasing Zito. The Giants would still be obligated to pay the remainder of Zito’s contract, so a release wouldn’t really accomplish all that much. On top of that, Zito would be free to sign with any team he chooses. If Zito chose to stay within the bunched NL West, his presence could be enough to shift the balance of the division. Due to those concerns, the Giants would be better off holding on to Zito for the time being. It’s not as if Zito is destroying the clubhouse with a bad attitude, and there is still some value in his skill set.
Zito’s tenure with the Giants has been pretty forgettable, but not bad enough to justify a buyout. While it’s become pretty pointless to judge Zito’s performances against his contract, at least he has provided some value over the past two seasons. Over the past two seasons in San Francisco, Zito has been worth 4.3 WAR. Over that same time period, his potential replacement, Jeff Suppan, has managed a -0.7 WAR. Based on those seasons Zito’s demise with the Giants has been a bit overstated, as all of his rates have pretty much reverted back to his career averages. Since he’s basically performing in a way we would expect, the negative stigma surrounding Barry Zito seems to be solely wrapped up in his massive contract. If another team were to pick up Zito on the cheap, they might be applauded for the move and the stigma would vanish.
If the Giants really want to rid themselves of Zito, a trade is the best option. Although the Giants would still have to eat a large chunk of Zito’s salary, they could at least get something in return for the durable lefty. While making a trade involving such a high salary player wouldn’t be easy, it has happened before. In 2002, the Colorado Rockies dealt Mike Hampton to the Atlanta Braves in a three team deal. This trade allowed the Rockies to save approximately $40 million over the remainder of Hampton’s contract. In dealing Hampton, however, the Rockies had to pick up the hefty contracts of Preston Wilson and Charles Johnson. If the Giants can find another team looking to move a player with a bad contract, there’s a chance (albeit, a slim one) that a deal actually gets done since Zito has such an enormous contract.
The Giants made a mistake signing Zito to such a lucrative deal in 2007. Due to that contract, they are more or less stuck with Zito unless they can find a team willing to trade an equally terrible contract. That might end up being a difficult task considering the amount of money that would have to change hands. Still, the Toronto Blue Jays were able to rid themselves of Vernon Wells this off-season, so anything is possible. At this point, the Giants are better off holding on to Zito and paying out the exorbitant salary they offered him years ago. Unless they can find another team to take on their mistake, it seems that this is the only option they have.
Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.