Barry Zito: Worst Pitcher Contract Ever?

Josh LevittSenior Analyst IJuly 16, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO - JUNE 21: Barry Zito #75 of the San Francisco Giants pitches against the Texas Rangers during a Major League Baseball game on June 21, 2009 at AT&T Park in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

When the Giants signed Barry Zito in 2006, they thought they had just locked up their ace for the next seven years.

The team believed that Zito had the goods to lead the Giants in the post Barry Bonds era by consistently taking the ball every fifth day, and giving the Giants a quality start.

However, Zito's tenure with the Giants has been an absolute disaster.

His ERA has ballooned upwards of five as Zito has not come close to looking like a top flight starting pitcher the Giants had thought they had signed. His velocity and control have deteriorated to the point where his once devastating curveball is no longer as effective as it once was.

At this point, the only reason Zito is still in the starting rotation is because of his huge contract, not because of his ability.

Unfortunately, the Giants are still on the hook for another four years of Zito at a whopping $76 million. In addition, the Giants gave Zito a full no trade clause, so for the time being, it looks like the Giants are stuck with Zito.
There is no doubt that Zito's contract is one of the worst in baseball right now.
Any Giants fan will tell you that, but can this contract become the worst contract ever handed out to a pitcher?
There have been many horrible contracts given out to pitchers over the years (Mike Hampton, Denny Neagle, Chan Ho Park, Darren Driefort, and Kevin Brown all come to mind), but in my opinion, Zito is in a completely different category than those four pitchers.
Unlike so many pitchers who sign big contracts, Zito has not gotten hurt during his time with the Giants. His durability remains his biggest strength (or weakness, depending on who you ask).
The issue at hand is that Zito's performance has declined so much, so quickly that he looks like a completely different pitcher than the one the Giants signed.
And here's the thing: the Zito contract is absolutely killing the Giants.
The Giants have a fantastic pitching staff without Zito and there is no doubt that right now he is holding the pitching staff back.
In addition, if the Giants did not sign Zito, then they would have been able to use the funds to go out and acquire a few bats to shore up their pathetic offense. However, Zito's contract limits the Giants payroll flexibility and very well could hold the Giants back from seriously competing in the wide open National League this season.
And that's a shame.
If the Giants make the playoffs this season or go deep into the playoffs, it will be in spite of Barry Zito, not because of him.
Barry Zito's contract has the potential to hold this franchise back from the Promised Land for years to come.
It's not often we can say that about one player, but this contract and his performance are that bad.
I suppose that there is still time for Zito to turn it around with the Giants, but he has shown nothing over his two-plus years with the Giants for me to believe that.

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