Word out this morning is that Barry Zito is signing with the San Francisco Giants for 7 years and $126 million w/ an option for an 8th year at $18 million. (Eric Byrnes, doing sports radio in San Francisco last week, had said that the Giants made the biggest offer).
That’s Vernon Wells money for a player who appears in 33-35 games a year and is not expect to play all 9 innings. Nice work if you can get it.
But this news on top of Dice-K signing for 6 years, and Kei Igawa and Gil Meche signing for 5, makes us wonder what happened to the resolve of owners to forego lengthy contracts to pitchers. Can you say Russ Ortiz? I know you can!
Of course, when several teams are after one player, it becomes a game of "Can you top this?" And some owner will forget his resolution to not give a pitcher a long contract faster than a guy who resolves on Dec. 31 to lose weight in the New Year, and then finds a piece of chocolate cake in the refrigerator on Jan. 2.
Zito was the cream of this year’s free agent pitching crop, so you know he would get the best contract. Given his preparation and durability, and his youth, he’s the guy to take the chance on with a long term deal. (Knock on wood. We’ve seen too many pitchers over the last couple of seasons catching line drives with something other than their gloves). But the base on which his contract stands–the lengths of the other contracts–makes us wonder if baseball is headed back to the future. Years ago, there was the reserve clause, which bound players to a team for their whole career. Now something like that is starting to emerge again, this time at the instigation of players and their agents, who are now seeking longer and longer deals. The owners may like it also because as years go on contracts get even more inflated so, the number looks mire reasonable as time goes by $18 million for a pitcher now, which seems like a king’s ransom, might be a bargain in five years. Certainly we heard that argument in relation to Manny Ramirez in the annual "Manny wants out of Boston" rumors.
It will take a while for the Giants to build a new team around Zito. They’ve got the young pitching staff; they need to get a closer. They have a left fielder who cannot run like he used to. This same left fielder is the team slugger, and he lost his protection in the lineup. (That is, when his protection was in the lineup). Z might have to wait two or three years to lead the Giants to multiple world championships, his stated goal in picking a team. (We hope he will lobby Mr. Sabean to BRING ERIC HOME).
Meanwhile, we sort of feel bad for Dice-K, about as bad as we can feel for anyone making $ 8 + Million a year, that is. If he does pan out as Boston’s ace, he’ll be making relative peanuts for his best years.
There is a huge caveat to all of this flow of money. These contracts are possible due to the growth and health of baseball. Growth and health that may in 4 or 5 years, show itself unsustainable in the long run. The world energy crisis that goes by the name Peak Oil, together with climate change, the fresh water crisis, the decline in world food reserves, and the increasing toxicity of our environment, may make large institutions extinct. Not that baseball itself, or even professional baseball will disappear. But Barry Zito’s grandchildren may find it hard to believe that Grandpa ever made so much money.