So the Giants have given out the biggest contract every given out to a pitcher, and the face of the rotation seems set for years to come. But the deal will mean much more change than a new face at the front of the rotation, and for those who criticize Giants ownership for being cheap to complain about. The contract Zito earned will have repercussions for years for the Giants, and even in baseball in general. Here’s a look at the shockwaves we can reasonably see coming.
NOW – Cuts to be made: The Giants already had to make a cut, but Zito will add a second one. The Giants 40 man roster was unofficially filled with the Giants agreed to terms with Barry Bonds; the signings of Zito and Ryan Klesko have put the Giants over the top. The cuts haven’t been made since the Bonds and Zito contracts haven’t been finalized yet, but they will have to be made soon. Two players currently on the Giants 40-Man roster will be let go.
So who will it be? One could be oft-injured pitching prospect Kelyn Acosta. Other older former prospects who haven’t earned consistent playing time and are out of options, like first baseman Lance Niekro and outfielder Jason Ellison are prime candidates. Catcher Justin Knoedler would be a risky cut, leaving the team without three healthy catchers on the roster, with Mike Matheny unlikely to ever return. The Giants remain hamstrung by having two players on the 40-Man roster who will not play in 2007; Matheny and injured prospect Merkin Valdez. Both will be eligible to be put on the 60-Day Disabled List and be replaced on the roster, but not until after Spring Training. That prevents the Giants from replacing their absence easily in advance.
SPRING TRAINING 2007 – No options, with two options: Kevin Correia and Brad Hennessey both have run out of minor league options, so if they aren’t on the major league roster in 2007, they will have to be waived and probably lost. Both pitchers have teased being able to be starters in the past, but neither has been consistently effective. With Zito, the Giants are reduced to one rotation spot open, and Correia, Hennessey and hot prospect Jonathan Sanchez are up for the role. Will either Hennessey or Correia get that role? If not, can they find homes in the bullpen? If Sanchez wins the starter job, could both even fit in the bullpen?
JUNE 2007 – Hurry up, and wait: Before signing Zito, the Giants had already locked in 6 picks in the first 61 picks in the 2007 draft, but had also lost their second and third round picks for signing other free agents to make up for extreme personnel change. While Zito will officially earn the Oakland Athletics the Giants second round pick, his signing effectively mean the Giants will also lose their fourth round pick.
While the Giants will be able to draft many impact players with 6 very early picks, the lack of mid-round picks provides an intriguing situation for the Giants. With a wait of more than 100 players between their 6th and 7th overall picks, will they risk having a player they really like, but not as a first rounder, being passed on by every other team in baseball at least three times over, or will they overdraft to ensure getting a player they want?
JULY 2007 – Deadlines, always full of life: As the trade deadline approaches, can the Giants afford to buy? Can they sell? The aforementioned blockage of starters makes for an intriguing group of players that can be traded. Will they trade a veteran like Morris or Lowry for prospects, particularly hitters? Or will young pitchers like Sanchez, Correia and Hennessey earn their shots elsewhere as the Giants trade off excess young pitching?
OFFSEASON 2007-8 – The next big contract, or is there one? This offseason’s market was not a good one for hitters, generally speaking, but the next offseason has been expected to be a great one for hitters. Although one of the most sought-after hitters, Vernon Wells, has already signed an extension with his current team, the market will still include outfielders Bobby Abreu, Milton Bradley, Mike Cameron, Jose Guillen, Geoff Jenkins, Andruw Jones, Ichiro Suzuki, as well as first baseman Sean Casey and shortstop Michael Young. That doesn’t include a pretty solid pitching class that includes closer Joe Nathan, and a certain starting pitcher (see next item). But can the Giants play ball with them?
A number of Giants will be coming off the books after 2007, including Barry Bonds, Pedro Feliz, Omar Vizquel, Armando Benitez, Mike Matheny, Mark Sweeney and Tim Worrell. But while that looks like a lot of money, backloaded contracts could bite the Giants. Benitez, Bonds and Vizquel all already had deferred money to be paid in 2008, and reports indicate that the Giants will defer much of Bonds’ money this year to 2008. It’s also been reported that the Giants have arranged with Zito for his first year to be for less money, indicating that he’ll get a substantial raise in 2008. Can the Giants afford to sign a hitter, especially after losing Bonds (probably for real next time)?
OFFSEASON 2007-8 – The Next Big Thing: The starting pitching market has some decent names, but one stands out. Carlos Zambrano will turn 27 just before the 2008 season, and he could be on a new team. He may not have won a Cy Young award yet, but he’s got a career 3.29 ERA and has struck out over 200 each of the past two years. Can Zambrano get 8 guaranteed years? In a market where he is head and shoulders above the rest of the possible acquisitions, he could get whatever he wants.
SPRING TRAINING 2008 – Roadblocks: If the possible glut of pitching choices could cause problems in 2007, 2008 could be a real problem. Cain will be there. It’s Morris’ final year of his contract. Lowry will be there if he’s not traded. And, of course, Zito will be there. So who will be #5? Correia and Hennessey could still be options, but the concern is with two high-ceiling prospects. Sanchez could be in the rotation to start 2007, but is likely to truly be ready by 2008. And then there’s Tim Lincecum, who is also very likely to be ready in 2008. Both these guys are players who deserve chances, and a hard decision about who to keep, between them and the existing pitchers, will have to be made.
OFFSEASON 2008-9 – As Good As It Gets: He’ll be 30, he hasn’t had an ERA over 3.10 since 2001, and he’s had 230+ strikeouts each of the last three years with low walks. There is no young pitcher as highly regarded as Johan Santana. In only 2 years, he’ll be a free agent, and while he might not break the 7 year mark on a deal being 30 at the time of this deal, he could make more than $20 million a year.
OFFSEASON 2008-9 – As Good As Giants Prospects Get: Johan Santana may get the biggest deal, perhaps ever, but the Giants will have one big deal of their own to make a decision on. Matt Cain will be eligible for arbitration at this point, and he could’ve already become an ace by this point. If he is, the measuring stick of his worth may be the pitcher many feel is only a very good #2 pitcher in Zito. This is the point in careers that many teams consider giving multiple year deals to avoid arbitration (such as the Giants gave Lowry), and the deal the Giants give Cain could set the bar for more deals in the future, like Sanchez and Lincecum, who will likely be eligible for arbitration in the subsequent two years.
2011-2013 – Zito the Old Man: Okay, maybe not old, but he’ll be reaching his mid-30’s, and he’ll be making more than $15M a year. Will his fastball be effective at this point in his career? Will his health have held up over the years? Whether or not he is still a top pitcher at this point will go a long ways towards determining whether this deal is a good one or not, and whether or not this money is spent towards a truly competitive team.
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