There is a simple solution to the Barry Zito problem: When he recovers from the mysterious foot ailment that landed him on the DL on Monday night, the Giants should put him on the “designated for assignment” list and send him to Triple-A Fresno. If he refuses to go, just release him.
And, yes, that means the Giants will probably have to eat the rest of Zito’s contract, about $60 million. Even if another club signed him, the Giants would almost certainly have to pay for most of the remaining contract.
But that money is already essentially lost anyway. The Giants know they aren’t going to get any more out of Zito than they already have — an occasional good start dwarfed by the multiple disasters.
They left him off the postseason roster last year because they only needed four starters and they had four better than Zito.
With Jonathan Sanchez back and scheduled to start Friday, they’ll have five starters who are better.
So, why keep him around? One writer suggested he could pitch long relief, but the Giants have seven better pitchers in the bullpen now — and in a major league career which started in 2000 with the A’s, he’s made 362 starts and pitched only twice in relief. How good do you think he’d be in that role?
Another writer suggested that the Giants could give their top five starters a rest by either going to a six-man rotation or using Zito as a spot starter to rest one of the top five.
Neither idea makes much sense. Why dilute a great rotation with an inferior pitcher? It’s not as if the Giants starters are worked too hard.
Manager Bruce Bochy and pitching coach Dave Righetti watch pitch counts carefully and usually take pitchers out before they hit 120, and often even earlier. The superb Giants bullpen makes that easy to do.
The truth is, the Zito signing was a huge mistake, and the Giants have paid dearly for it already. This is not second-guessing; I wrote that it was a mistake at the time. I had seen Zito declining from his AL Cy Young year on, and there was no reason to think changing leagues would change that pattern.
With the Giants, his decline has accelerated. He has had four losing seasons, with ERAs exceeding 4.00. This year is his worst: 3-4 with a 5.62 ERA after Sunday’s blowout loss in Cincinnati.
There’s no mystery why. At his peak, Zito’s fastball topped out at 89-90. On Sunday, it topped out at 84. As Giants broadcaster Mike Krukow noted, batters are very comfortable against that kind of fastball, digging in because they don’t fear getting hit. Zito is the polar opposite of Randy Johnson.
Kirk Rueter had the same kind of fastball, but he got a lot of ground balls, which could be turned into double plays. Zito gets most of his outs on fly balls. The problem is that a lot of those fly balls go out of the park or against the fences.
The pattern is clear — and getting worse. There is absolutely no reason to keep him around. Bite the bullet, Giants, before he does any more damage.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.