Barry Zito -- The perpetual fifth starter

February 16, 2012, 3:47 pm
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You are about to be given the usual boatload about spring training as the happiest time of the year, as a time of rebirth and optimism and warm-and-cuddlies all around.

And who are we to disabuse you of that myth if it keeps you warm? I mean, it isnt like spring training is a Turkish prison, either.

But in the middle between bucolic rite of spring and hellish nightmare in a God-forsaken land lies the truth that this when the angst of the season begins to build.

Yes, angst. You know where the story lines of the year begin the arduous process of being beaten to death.

And we know the worst of them, dont we? The one that never ends, no matter how many times it is dismissed as the ephemera it is.

Yes. Barry Zito. The Perpetual Fifth Starter.

REWIND: Barry Zito stats

And this isnt even his fault any more. It hasnt been for awhile, either. He hasnt been a problem child, or a diva, or an issuer of demands. He has taken whats been given without overt complaint, and he shows up on time, and in shape, ready to give it another go for as long as theres a go to give.

But here we are again, two days before pitchers and catchers report, and it will be the first order of business what to do about Barry Zito.

Well, the solution is the same solution thats existed for three years now. Hes the fifth starter, and one of the longest-serving fifth starters in the game. He pitches and meets the criteria of a fifth starter until he hits a rough patch, or gets hurt.

Thats how it works. Thats how it has always worked. Thats how its going to continue, and it is hard to understand why so few fans or medioids seem to get that.

And dont bring up the money. The money is gone, a sunk cost. The contract is two owners ago, and Zito did not hold a gun to the Giants and demand the money. They outbid everyone else by 46 million, and they get to pay for that judgment.

Plus, we havent seen that there is some pitcher whose progress is being retarded by Zitos continued presence. Jonathan Sanchez sped by him and then lost the strike zone so badly that he ended up in Kansas City. Ryan Vogelsong sped by him after years on the major league fringe and is now the fourth starter.

This is about money that No Longer Exists, that the Giants wouldnt be able to regain if Zito wandered into the woods, moved to Nepal or decided to open for the Foo Fighters. Money that was lost in 2007 five years ago. Money that still has two years and 46 million to run.

Zito will make 19 million this year, 20 million next year, and then will be bought out for 7 million in 2014. The 18 million option for 2014 would kick in if he pitched 200 innings in 2013, a figure he hasnt reached since he left Oakland, or totaled 600 innings in 2011, 12 and 13, which means he has to average 273 innings this year and next. Thats pitching into the ninth inning every time out for two consecutive years.

In short, this is a two-year commitment to a fifth starter who has already been moved aside once for baseball reasons a problem, then, that does not exist.

But the rehashes will be done anyway. If the story changes at all, it will change with his performances once the season begins. He may turn out to be a feel-good story in 2012, and theres no reason to root actively against it, but it wont be in February.

Its spring, though, and the traditions must be honored, even the absurd ones. Barry, you got a few minutes?

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