Zito at cosmic center of living at the right time, living right

The Baltimore Sun

There's living right, and living at the right time.

Meet Barry Zito - Zen guy, musician, would-be actor, dater of starlets, collector of stuffed animals and a man very definitely living both right and at the right time.

Zito, the consistently fine left-hander formerly of the Oakland Athletics, has just agreed to a seven-year, $126 million deal with the San Francisco Giants.

This staggering contract is the richest ever awarded a pitcher, which results in three immediate conclusions:

Zito is the most fortunate pitcher in baseball history, Scott Boras has again proved to be the greatest agent in baseball history and the Giants are the dumbest organization in baseball history, or at least this week.

You could call it an historic signing.

Now this isn't in any way meant to slam Zito, but let's get serious, this isn't Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, or perhaps more fairly, Greg Maddux, in his prime.

This is a very good pitcher with a smooth delivery who eats up innings and has avoided injury. He's had one outstanding season, in 2002 when he won the Cy Young Award after going 23-5 with a 2.75 ERA.

Any team would absolutely love to have him on its staff.

But for seven years and $126 million? This is baseball's most outrageous contract ever, or at least since Alex Rodriguez, another Boras production.

These are the same Giants who just bid against themselves to sign Barry "Puffy" Bonds for $16 million, and have now done it again with Zito.

Giving any pitcher guaranteed money for five years is borderline ludicrous, but seven years is pure funny-farm material. It's padded room, white jacket and a lifetime subscription to Baseball America.

This just in: Pitchers break down, particularly older ones. You cannot count on them being healthy for next season, let alone the next seven.

Colorado was the last brain-dead team to give a pitcher a laughable contract when it went eight years and $121 million for Mike Hampton. He's gone 53-48 since. He was ultimately traded by the Rockies to the Atlanta Braves for Tim Spooneybarger and Ryan Baker (don't ask).

Then there was Boras' other boy, Kevin Brown, who signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers for seven years and $105 million, and do we really have to review how that went?

The Giants will pooh-pooh this, claiming Zito, who will turn 29 in May, has thrown for over 200 innings the past six years, keeps himself in excellent condition and is never injured.

Which is almost exactly the same line Boras fed the Dodgers (another team that bid against itself) before they signed Brown. He ended up throwing more than 200 innings three times in his next seven years.

For Zito, this is an excellent deal, and not just because of the dollars. He doesn't have to move but just drive across the bay. His ERA will drop in the National League. He'll be in a pitcher-friendly ballpark. It's a marvelous fit.

This is also supposedly - hopefully - the final year for Bonds. When he retires, the Giants will need a new face, a new centerpiece.

Zito better be prepared. When you sign a contract that ties for sixth-highest overall in baseball history, expectations have a way of heightening.

Time will clear that up. For today, Boras has served the Giants on a plate and Zito can feast. He is living right, and very much at the right time.

Steve Dilbeck writes for the Los Angeles Daily News.

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