It’s not all that surprising: when Gil Meche and Ted Lilly are getting enough money to ensure their grandchildren’s grandchildren will be set for life, it was a no-brainer that Zito was going to get enough money to paper his yoga room in $100,000 bills. (If only there were such things as $100,000 bills. Sigh.) What is surprising is that Zito’s contract is, arguably, as dumb (from a management standpoint) as either Meche’s or Lilly’s.
Zito’s contract — $126 million for a seven-year deal* — is the richest ever given to a pitcher. (Zito is tied for the sixth-biggest contract in the history of the game…and three of those have been signed in the last two months.) He’s the third pitcher to get a $100 million deal. And he’s likely to work out about as well as the two that came before him: Mike Hampton ($121 million/8 years in ’01) and Kevin Brown ($105 million/7 years in ’99). I’m pretty sure those three guys are the only pitchers in the history of the game to get contracts for seven or more years, which should tell you something about throwing around that much money for hurlers. (The fourth and fifth richest pitcher contracts belong to Mike Mussina ($88.5 mil/6 years, ’01) and Pedro ($75 mil/6 years, ’99) — arguably the only two six-year pitcher deals that have ever worked out.) You know a deal is a shitty one for the club when it makes the Rangers (who maked out at 6 yrs/$84 mil) and the Mets (5 yrs, $75 mil) look economical in comparison.
A cursory glance at Zito’s CV does give the impression that he’s one of the game’s elite pitchers: a Cy Young award (2002), a .618 career winning percentage, (102-63), and a career 3.55 ERA. But that Cy Young award was a stone-cold theft from Pedro, who was so much better than Zito that year it was a joke, and Zito might very well have the softest .618 winning percentage in the game. As the always on-the-mark Keith Law points out, Zito has been “the beneficiary of a favorable ballpark with lots of foul territory, a favorable schedule, great bullpen support and outstanding outfield defense — and he’s not going to receive either the defense or the relief help in San Francisco. … committing long-term to a guy who at best is a No. 3 starter on a contender is madness.”
Anyway, hats off to Scott Boras, who got San Francisco to pay somewhere north of $25 million more than any other bidders.
Obligatory Boston-New York content: I’m with Law in considering Zito nothing more than a 3rd starter on a playoff team, but the Yankees had to be at least considering Zito as a potential left-handed replacement for Randy Johnson should the previously dominating Unit head west in a trade. I thought all the Zito to the AL East talk was a bit overblown, and I couldn’t see Cashman and Co. getting into a bidding war for a pitcher they must know isn’t all that. But it does alter the playing field a bit…
(Addendum: Maybe I’m hopelessly naive, but it seems to me at least some of these guys must end up feeling a little guilty when it turns out they’ve fleeced the crap out of a club. Back at the end of Teddy Ballgame’s career, he insisted on returning some salary when he had a crappy year. Granted, he was dealing with tens of thousands and not tens of millions of dollars…but don’t you think some of the Mike Hamptons of the world wake up in cold sweats?
Just kidding! Of course they don’t! One can never have enough manicured Arizona lawns, can one?)
* The deal is being reported as being worth six-years and $126 million, but from my reading of the press reports, it’s actually worth a minimum of $133 million: Zito has an $18-million team option for 2014 that can be bought out for $7 million. The option becomes guaranteed if Zito reaches some innings milestones, which would make this worth $144 million.