The Giants have mostly put the era of bad contracts behind them, but there are still two bad ones on the books with Barry Zito and Aubrey Huff.
Zito’s is by far the worst, probably the worst free-agent signing in history. It is also the most inexplicable because he was pitching just across the Bay with the A’s.
Writers, including me, who were watching the A’s could see a steady decline in Zito’s effectiveness from his Cy Young season in 2002. But the Giants made Zito the “face of the franchise” with his signing after the 2006 season. Yikes!
He’s had a spring training that has trended down in the same fashion as his career. He started well, with what seemed like his 92nd “new approach” after working with Tom House over the winter. Since then — surprise! — the old Zito has reappeared. In an outing against the Chicago White Sox, he gave up nine hits to the 18 hitters he faced, including back-to-back homers, and couldn’t finish the third inning.
Writers have often talked about Zito being different because of his artistic temperament, but I think his problem is that he’s not very smart. I’ve heard him talk in postgame meetings with the media, saying he was doing something he had to correct. He’s been in the big leagues since 2000 and he hasn’t figured it out yet?
Injuries to other pitchers are the only thing keeping him in the rotation. Ryan Vogelsong, the feel-good story of 2011, had an arm problem that caused the Giants to limit his pitches; now, they’re shooting at April 15 for his first start. Eric Surkamp was having a very good spring until he encountered arm problems.
All the Giants were hoping for Zito is that he be the fifth starter, but if he can’t even do that, keeping him around is a downer for everybody.
After Huff’s 2010 season, when he was an important part of the Giants’ World Series championship team, general manager Brian Sabean signed him to a two-year, $22 million extension. If he’d signed him to one year at $11 million, with a club option for a second, Huff would be gone now. Instead, he’s clogging up the operation because he’s taking playing time from Brandon Belt.
Belt is a better-fielding first baseman than Huff and he’s also the best young hitter in the organization, capable of hitting for average and power, but only if he gets consistent playing time. There’s talk that the Giants will send him down again to Triple-A Fresno so he can get those at-bats.
It would be much better if they’d sit Huff, even cut him. He blamed his decline last year on lack of conditioning, but I think it is far more likely that National League pitchers caught up with him. He had been an unknown to them in 2011 and he was starting to tail off by the end of that season.
For years, the Giants played veterans at the expense of younger players. They’ve really worked on their farm system and are now developing good position players, but they can’t fully develop if management insists on playing over-the-hill veterans.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.