When two objects plummet towards a narrow abyss, a meeting becomes more and more likely, until it is inevitable.
In Jupiter, Florida, spring training—a time for optimism and upside—has been swathed in black for the St. Louis Cardinals. They've had to face a season-ending injury to their ace, the impending free agency of their premier player and the possibility of a season spent helplessly watching their rivals battle for a division title.
Zito's troubles in the City by the Bay began the moment he inked a seven-year, $128 million deal that no human could live up to. They gained traction last season, when, despite having been a stalwart member of the starting rotation, Zito was left off of the postseason roster entirely.
Today, they may have finally culminated.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the Giants may buy out the remaining four years of Zito's deal after he walked five batters in a Cactus League start. With a $7 million buyout in 2014, that would mean he’s owed $64.5M over the rest of this deal.
Nobody has said that Zito will be bought out. With such a hefty payday coming his way, it's likely that the Giants just decide to ride out the mild tropical storm that has become a Barry Zito start.
However, there are other factors that could lead to Zito's exile from AT&T Park.
After a hot start, the Giants went 1-8 in his last nine starts of the season, with a 6.74 ERA in those games.
San Francisco went 24-8 in the games he did not start during that stretch. Add in the distinctly Zito-less World Series run and the Giants were 35-12 down the home stretch with Zito.
Obviously, this team was much better without him. He had a 4.15 ERA and 1.34 WHIP while pitching in the anemic National League West.
Back to the Cardinals. Let's say Zito is bought out or released. This is a team missing their ace, Adam Wainwright, and is holding a competition for their fifth spot that includes Kyle McClellan, Ian Snell and Brian Tallet.
They'd have to give Zito at least a look, right?
With the possible exception of McClellan, who no one knows exactly what to expect from, Zito is a better option than anyone currently in the Cardinals' system.
Of course, the reasons the Giants would let go of him also apply as reasons the Cardinals should stay away. However, as with all additions to the Cardinals' pitching staff, there are two defining factors that make a move plausible.
The first is Dave Duncan. At this point, if you know baseball, you've heard of Duncan. As Tony LaRussa's right hand man and pitching coach since their days with the Chicago White Sox in the early '80s, Duncan has worked miracles on a variety of journeymen, reclamation projects and obscure prospects by preaching a common approach of pitching to contact.
Since Duncan joined the Cardinals in 1996, Ken Bottenfield, Todd Stottlemyre, both of the Benes brothers, Juan Avecedo, Darren Oliver, Garrett Stephenson, Dave Veres, Rick Ankiel, Woody Williams, Jason Marquis, Kyle Lohse and Todd Wellemeyer all posted two Wins Above Replacement in a season for the Cardinals.
With the possible exceptions of Williams and Oliver, none of these players have had success outside of Duncan's system.
The second is Yadier Molina. As well as being the best defensive catcher in quite some time, Molina is excellent at handling a pitching staff and calling a game. ESPN the Magazine named him "baseball's one true game-changing catcher."
Jorge Posada, Victor Martinez and Brian McCann are among his peers to echo the national consensus: Yadier Molina is the best defensive catcher in baseball.
With the help of Duncan and Molina, as well as a pitcher-friendly park, St. Louis is the perfect storm for castaway pitchers.
Now, unlike the pitchers above, Zito has had previous success. He won the American League Cy Young in 2002 with Oakland and posted a record of 102-63 with 28.8 WAR. Compare that to his 40-57 record and 4.2 WAR with the Giants and it's clear that Zito has been two different pitchers on different sides of the Bay.
If the Giants decide that they've had enough of Zito's Mr. Hyde impression and buy out the rest of his salary, the Cardinals should be the first team on the phone with his agent.
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