Barry Zito -- The perpetual fifth starter

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Barry Zito -- The perpetual fifth starter

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?

Patriots win one for the ages, but where does it rank?

Patriots win one for the ages, but where does it rank?

The price of watching Roger Goodell being booed back to the Bronze Age is a subtle but real one, and one that people will feel very dearly soon enough.

The last great cathartic Super Bowl is now done, with the New England Patriots winning the brilliant and decisive battle to be sports’ new evil empire. In doing so, it rendered Goodell a permanent and risible punch line in National Football League history, the mall cop who wanted the death penalty for littering, and in the words of the song “got what he wanted but he lost what he had.”

True, $40 million a year can make the dissolution of your public persona a reasonably decent tradeoff, but we lost the argument about who won his windmill tilt with the Patriots. It’s done, and he is now permanently and irrevocably a figure of ridicule.

But that’s not the only debating point America lost Sunday night, and while you wouldn’t think it given how much time we are willing to shouting at each other, quality arguments are not easily replaced.

We have almost surely lost the mindless debate about the best quarterback ever, because there is nothing anyone can bring up that the words “Tom Brady” cannot rebut except calling his own plays, and since that is no longer allowed in football, it is a silly asterisk to apply.

We have almost surely lost the equally silly shouter about the best coach ever. Bill Belichick is defiantly not fun, but he has built, improved and bronzed an organizational model that is slowly swallowing the rest of the sport. That and five trophies makes him the equal if not better of the short list of Paul Brown, George Halas, Vince Lombardi, Bill Walsh and Tom Landry.

Plus, Belichick locked up the most absurd response to a question in coaching history Monday when he said, “As great as today feels . . . we're five weeks behind the other teams for the 2017 season.” Even allowing for Gregg Popovich in-game interviews, the so-grim-he-could-make-a-robot-cry worship-the-process response has now become a cliché. If 2017 prep was so important, he should have skipped yesterday’s game, and he definitely should have chosen not to waste so much time on the trophy stand after the game when training camp drills needed to be scheduled.

Oh, and DeflateGate died. Dead. No zombie possibilities here.

We do have a meatheaded argument ahead of us about which championship in the last year is the best, which can be settled here.

1. Leicester City, because 5,000-1 is 5,000-1, and the whole world understands that. Plus, there was invaluable three-month buildup that engaged non-soccer fans.

2. Chicago Cubs, because 108 years is 108 years.

3. New England Patriots, because . . . well, I don’t have to explain it unless you have no useful memory span. “Down 25 In The Third Quarter” is the new “Down 3-1.”

4. Cleveland Cavaliers, because they slayed the first unbeatable Warrior team by coming from 3-1 down, and even as a silver medalist, it will always be an internet meme, which is what passes for memorable in our decrepit culture.

5. (tie) Villanova basketball and Clemson football in a tie, because they were essentially the same great game.

7. The Pittsburgh Penguins, because the Stanley Cup Final was devoid of drama or high moments, and only 14:53 of overtime. Feh.

But everything else is settled, and this Super Bowl will not be topped for a long time. Our current cycle of absurd championships is almost surely going to end soon, because “Down 3-1” has happened twice in eight months (three times, if you count Warriors over Thunder), and the bar has now been placed well beyond reasonable clearing.

Indeed, the only thing left is for a championship team to spontaneously combust on the award stand. But if they do so and ignite Roger Goodell along the way, that would be an ending America would cheerfully endorse.

But that also isn’t an argument any more, and yes, that includes Gary Bettman.

Raiders, 49ers can return to their normal madness after Fried Festivus 51

Raiders, 49ers can return to their normal madness after Fried Festivus 51

The Super Bowl is today, which means the best day of the year is fast approaching.

Namely, the day after the Super Bowl.

At that point, we as a nation can complete the inventory of gastric damage we did to ourselves on what shall be known to future generations as Fried Festivus.

At that point, the people who bombard us daily with news of the game – the least important part of the week-long trade show, as we have come to learn it – will all be on planes and too tired to re-explain what we already saw 37 times on game day.

At that point, nobody will care that Terrell Owens was apparently one of the first of the 15 Hall of Fame finalists to be rejected for induction because of crimes against the NFL state. The Hall of Fame is one of the sneaky ways in which the NFL never lets us escape its obnoxiously shouty profile, and the fact that Owens is right about the flawed process doesn’t change the fact that he’ll be just fine with the process when it allows him passage.

At that point, we’ll know whether Tom Brady is to be deemed a god, or merely maintain his demigod status. At least we’ll hear more about it, because it is easily the most tiresome debate in the football diaspora, engaged in by idiots with no better idea about how to kill time. A note: If you think Tom Brady is a greater quarterback because his team won a fifth ring, or a lesser one because he didn’t, your head is now officially empty enough to be reclassified a dance hall, and you are of no more value to normal society than a papier-mache goose.

And at that point, we can return to the two things we in these parts care to know – where the Raiders are going, and how the 49ers are going to present their new football brain trust.

We needn’t explain the Raiders again to you, first because you’ve heard it all if you’re paying any attention at all. Mark Davis has been trying to cobble deals at a frantic pace in hopes that one will stick, and his 31 fellow owners still have to decide how much longer they want to endure him, while faced with the painful fact that the East Bay is getting out of the exploitative license-to-be-stolen-from stadium business. They also get to know as they go to the meeting in Houston that will ostensibly decide Davis’ fate that they have ruined California as a market by their excessive greed-laced stupidity and deserve every lousy market the state can give them.

Which brings us to the 49ers, and the latest round of Judge Them By Their Press Conferences.

If there is anything worse than this team’s on-field profile, which is why Jed York hired Kyle Shanahan, it is the way it explains itself to the outside world, which is why Jed York hired John Lynch. Both Shanahan and Lynch will be paraded before a braying mobs, probably Tuesday, and York will be there as well for the cheesy photo array and a few unconvincing words of praise about each of them (as a note, Paraag Marathe will be present but only in hologrammatic form).

They will then promise – well, something or other – and Lynch will be hailed as the face of the glorious future because the man he replaced, Trent Baalke, had the public persona of a meth-tweaked hyena. Hard to find, and not worth it when you did.

Then we’ll all remember that the job Shanalynch (or Lynchahan, depending on what part of Ireland you’re from) are being asked to do is a three-year reclamation at the very least, and that the only useful question either can be asked is “Can you fix this before Jed gets embarrassed and angry and cans you both?”

And on Wednesday, there’s the start of pre-draft prep (in order words, The Eighty-Day Slave Market), and the hamster wheel to hell gears up again toward Super Bowl LII.

Only next year, the chances of relocation hysteria and a front office upheaval are that much less, and we haven’t sufficient distractions to make the year go faster.

But enjoy Fried Festivus. We can always look forward to that, even if we change the name back in December to the more traditional "Christmas."