Giants Find The New Centerpiece: Zito

San Francisco has said many times that they wanted to find a young player to build around, but it wasn't expected they'd find a free agent pitcher that fit that bill. They did, and they paid for it in record setting amounts.

Usually, when the Giants make a splash, it's a guy named Barry hitting a baseball out of the park.  This time, they did it by bringing a Barry over the water and into the park.

The Giants found their new centerpiece in former Oakland Athletics star pitcher Barry Zito, and they lured him across the Bay with the largest contract ever awarded to a pitcher.  Zito was given a seven-year, $126 million contract that has an option for an 8th year that could make the deal worth as much as $137 million.

The option year is a club option, while it could vest if Zito throws 200 innings in 2013, the last guaranteed year of the deal.  It will also vest if he averages 200 innings a season over the last two or last three years of the deal.  The deal is tied for the 6th largest contract ever in baseball, along with the deal Vernon Wells was given by the Toronto Blue Jays this offseason.

The contract locks Zito, 28, in as the long-term ‘veteran' of a promising rotation that could only get better (and younger) in the coming seasons.  While Matt Morris, 32, is currently the old man of the rotation, his contract ends after the 2008 season.  The Giants have Noah Lowry, 26, under their control until 2011, and Matt Cain, 22, until 2012.  Other options, like 24-year old Jonathan Sanchez could be in the rotation until 2013, and top prospect Tim Lincecum will be under control for at least 6 years starting after whenever he comes up, likely in the next two seasons.

Zito had spent most of the offseason being courted by teams like the New York Mets.  The Mets were rumored to have the most interest in Zito early on, but the offer from the Mets was rumored to be only five years at about $15 million a year.  In recent weeks, the Texas Rangers became serious bidders, and reportedly offered Zito a six year contract.

A's general manager Billy Beane said he was both happy for Zito and relieved.  "Better there than the American League West.''

 Zito's numbers have not been ace-like the last three years, but Zito's draw was more than just numbers.  Zito hasn't missed a start in his career, and his track record and promise of future durability was a key factor for a team that has had a lack of consistent appearances from top pitchers in the rotation the past couple of years.  Zito is also compared to Tom Glavine, a former Atlanta Braves pitcher who was still winning 16 games in a season at 35, the same age that Zito will be at the end of this contract.

Zito said last week that he was looking for an owner that was match him in his ‘goal to lead a team to multiple World Series Championships.'  The Giants began courting Zito seriously not long after agreeing with Barry Bonds, although few observers took the Giants offers seriously, not believing the Giants would pay out the money required to sign the pitcher generally considered to be the best on the market.

The Giants also recently signed Ryan Klesko, a friend of Zito's who introduced Zito to surfing.  And, like Klesko, part of Zito's contract includes money that will go towards charitable services, and Zito founded a charitable organization in 2005 called "Strikeouts for Troops" to help wounded members of the military and their families.

Giants first baseman Mark Sweeney said the move will take pressure off of the team, including two teammates in particular. "Matt Cain is one of them. Taking Jason Schmidt's spot is asking a lot. I think that would be pushing it a little bit, even though he's going to be our No. 1 for years, and I think the world of him. And also Matt Morris, who is going to bounce back. He put a lot on his shoulders.

Rotation mate Noah Lowry is also excited. "I'm obviously excited about it. It's a huge piece of the puzzle as far as solidifying the rotation," Lowry said. "From my standpoint, obviously him being left-handed and somebody who's had great success around the league, he's somebody I have looked up to in the past and I'm sure I'll learn a lot from him."
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