The San Francisco Giants have signed left-hander Barry Zito to a deal worth — sit down for this one — $126 million for 7 years. The contract includes an $18 million option for the 2014 season, as well as a full no-trade clause.
Here’s all you need to know about the deal. Zito’s former teammate in Oakland, Mark Ellis, had this to say:
Wow. That’s incredible. That’s awesome for him.
Anytime you sign a contract that makes another millionaire say, “wow,” “incredible,” and “awesome,” you’re doing something right.
Zito’s main asset is durability; he’s made 34 or more starts in each of his six full big-league seasons. After a strong rookie campaign (17-8, 3.49 ERA) and a brilliant sophomore season (23-5, 2.75) that netted him the AL Cy Young Award, Zito, who turns 29 in May, has settled into a slightly above-average starter who works a lot of innings.
Zito’s most comparable pitcher through age 28 according to Baseball-Reference? Mike Hampton. Yep, the same Hampton who scored an 8-year, $121 million deal with Colorado before the 2001 season. Obviously that didn’t work out too well for the Rockies.
The scary thing is, Hampton actually had enjoyed more recent success when he signed his deal than Zito has entering this one. Here are the stat lines for each over the three seasons prior to hitting the jackpot:
Obviously every case is different, and Zito has the advantage of not having to pitch half his games at Coors Field, but this deal could seriously cripple the Giants for a long time. Truth is, all but the luckiest of pitchers eventually breaks down.
It’s quite possible that Zito will make all of his starts over the next seven years and continue to be as effective as he has been over the past three. The risk is real, though, and I’m not sure how comfortable I’d be shelling out $126 million to find out whether Zito is one of the lucky ones.