Free Agent Lefty Chooses San Fran over New York
Who knows how close the Mets were in the Barry Zito sweepstakes. And for that matter, the Texas Rangers and Seattle Mariners. It became a moot point when the former Cy Young Award winner signed a seven-year, $126 million dollar deal with the San Francisco Giants, which includes an option for an eighth year at $18 million. The same Giants that recently lost ace Jason Schmidt to their division rivals, the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Mets GM Omar Minaya stated that he made a competitive offer for five years to Zito and his 'top dollar' agent, Scott Boras. The annual salary may have been higher than the Giants' offer, but the length of the contract was shorter. Apparently, Zito was more interested in signing for a longer period of time than being reunited with his former pitching coach, Rick Peterson.
Under Peterson is when Zito enjoyed his most successful seasons, culminating with winning the American League Cy Young Award in 2002. That season, Zito went 23-5, with a 2.75 ERA, and had 182 strikeouts. He was named to the AL All-Star team in 2002, 2003 and 2006. He has thrown 200 or more innings in each of his first six big league seasons, and has a career mark of 102-63.
All along, the feeling was that Zito preferred to stay on the west coast. So it should not come as a total shock that he did sign with the Giants. Especially considering that his former team, the Oakland Athletics, are a fellow bay area club. He apparently feels comfortable in that area and now has 126 million reasons to assure him of that.
Did Minaya drop the ball on this one? Not really, if he stuck to his guns on not signing pitchers to expensive deals over five years. If that is the team policy, then he should be applauded for passing. The Mets' offer was most likely a very competitive one, but they were outbid by a closer suitor. That is nothing to hang your head about. The facts are the facts. You have to accept them and move on.
So that brings us to the next point: where? Do the Mets now turn their attention to a Mark Mulder or Jeff Weaver, the best two free agent starters left on the market? Weaver should not instill any confidence in Met fans, regardless of how he pitched in the NLCS. Mulder is coming off an injury, but has been an effective pitcher throughout his career. And there is always the possibility of pulling off a trade for a starter. The names being mentioned are Joe Blanton or Dan Haren from Oakland or Javier Vasquez or Jon Garland from the Chicago White Sox. What will it take to pry one of these arms away? In any of these potential deals, one would have to figure that young outfielder Lastings Milledge and Aaron Heilman are at the top of the wish lists. That is a steep price for an arm that would be no better than a third starter in the Mets' rotation.
If the season were to start today, 41 year-old Tom Glavine would be the number one starter, followed by the ageless wonder, Orlando 'El Duque' Hernandez, who's age is a question mark. After that, take your pick from youngsters John Maine, Oliver Perez and Mike Pelfrey to fill out numbers three, four, and five. One has to suspect that Minaya will not go into the season like this. He is a shrewd GM and knows the business. The deal that he will ultimately make will be a smart one. When he traded Kris Benson to Baltimore last season, critics were saying that he got fleeced. But in return, the Mets acquired Jorge Julio (who they turned around for Hernandez) and Maine. Not a bad deal when you look at it now. Expect a move along those lines. Not a blockbuster, but one that will give the rotation a boost until another big arm becomes available and Pedro Martinez returns from shoulder surgery.