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Thinking The Unthinkable About Barry Zito

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Let's just say, just for a brief giddy moment, that the Barry Zito of October 19 and October 24, with a combined pitching line of....

13.1 IP / 12 H / 1 ER / 2 BB / 9 K / 0 HR

... is somehow a harbinger, which is a hamburger mixed with a humdinger that predicts the future.

And let's just imagine, just for a silly small-sample-sized moment, that Barry Zito pitches goshdarn decently in 2013. I acknowledge there's not much in the broad sweep of his 2012 season that looks glaringly different than his previous mediocre years with the Giants, except for the wins. Same old Zeets. Even the two shockingly good playoff outings had their evil counterpart in his Division Series start against the Reds. Oh yeah, that.

So I'm not expecting this to be much more than a thought experiment, but here goes, anyway. If Zito has figured something out and can convince the Giants he's a slightly better pitcher going forward, it's not completely unthinkable that they pick up his 2014 option, which from the first day his contract was publicly unveiled looked ridiculous: Either the Giants pay him $18 million or they give him $7 million to become a free agent.

But the question is not whether you'd pay Barry Zito $18 million to pitch for the Giants in 2014; it's whether you'd pay him $11 million. If somehow the Giants can be convinced between now and next October that a slightly better version of Zito has finally arrived, the answer might be yes, that what's essentially a one-year, $11 million deal is worth inking.

There would have to be holes in the rotation, perhaps left by a departed Tim Lincecum; or by an Eric Surkamp who could never quite recover from Tommy John surgery; or by the slow development of the bright young prospects currently in Single-A ball. Baseball teams have done crazier things than spend $11 million for a mediocre hurler, a one-year stopgap who'll take the ball every fifth day, keep his team close on most days, and throw 175 to 200 innings over the season. It would look like the Giants were spending $18 million -- and they would be -- but the first $7 million are already in Zito's bank account, effectively. Sunk cost, and all that.

Couldn't the Giants throw a dart at a list of non-roster invitees and find someone to post Zitovian numbers for, say, one-tenth of the non-sunk $11 million of Zito's 2014 contract? Perhaps. It would be much preferred, for sure. A guy wouldn't have to be Vogelsong Redux to be more than suitable. But how many non-roster guys make 30-plus starts and post one to two wins above replacement -- which has more or less been Zito's range as a Giant? If someone wants to do a search, let us know the results. I'm guessing it's not as many as you think. And keep in mind a win above replacement has been roughly speaking worth $5 million the past few years; no doubt that's rising fast in the current salary escalation madness.

There's also the possibility that the Giants want him back in 2014, but not for an extra $11 million, and Zito is fine with that. He gets his $7 million buyout and a few more mil on top. Unlikely, but it could happen. 

Again, a lot of stars need to align to make the unthinkable thinkable, starting with a season-long renaissance from Zito in 2013. I can imagine a lot more situations that would make this thought exercise moot: Zito continues his fade; Lincecum bounces back and signs a contract extension; Chris Heston proves he's a legitimate rotation candidate; a snappy trade or two. But I like saying things that make everyone else roll their eyes: It's not inconceivable that Barry Zito could be a Giant in 2014. 


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