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Peter Gammons on Barry Zito

Mike SteffanosWednesday, December 7, 2005
By Mike Steffanos


I was driving on business this afternoon and caught Ed Coleman with Mike and the Mad Dog. The bottom line was that Coleman feels Billy Beane is much less inclined to deal Barry Zito than some of the rumors you hear would indicate. Coleman feels that Beane is floating Zito more as a test balloon just to judge how much interest is truly out there among the other clubs.

Then I returned home and read the latest from Peter Gammons that shed a little more light on the situation:

ESPN: Burnett's deal suddenly has an impact
Gammons' main point was that the 5 year deal that A. J. Burnett received from the Blue Jays will have an enormous impact on the contracts that starting pitchers -- especially relatively young ones -- can expect to receive. Because Zito is up for a new contract after this season, part of the gamble of getting him is what you'll have to pay if you wish to keep him:

In fact, the Burnett deal might keep Zito in Oakland. Zito is 27, left-handed and has a 86-53 career record. One close friend said Zito wouldn't sign right now for anything less than the Burnett deal, and is expecting to sign for "considerably more." [my emphasis] So while Billy Beane had intended to explore the Zito trade market once the free agents had signed, he might hold onto Zito and make a run at the 2006 season.

Gammons quotes Mets GM Omar Minaya that Billy Beane told him that he wasn't trading Zito. Then he goes on to make a point about the risks a potential trade partner faces if they manage to make a deal with Oakland:

Any team trading for Zito now knows that to trade three players and try to sign him now might cost $60 to $70 million, and would be a huge gamble. So what Oakland can get for him is probably less, making it more reasonable for Beane to hold onto Zito for his final contract season.

I like Zito, and I understand the attraction of obtaining a starting pitcher who is young, talented, a former Cy Young winner, and left-handed. It might not be the best move to make right now, especially with some questions as to whether Zito will ever be quite the pitcher he was early in his career. Plus, the only way you can justify this trade is if you can sign Zito to an extension that lets you hold onto him past this season. Unfortunately, that means you'd have to give him the big contract without getting the chance to see how he might perform here.

The market for pitching is at a high point right now, and if history has taught us anything, you will usually regret the big-ticket signings you make in an inflated market. Just ask Larry Lucchino about that.

In my opinion, Javier Vazquez would be a smarter risk right now. Arizona has to move him, and I don't think they will be able to demand Lastings Milledge and Aaron Heilman in return. (If they do, just say "no".) He has a couple of years left on his contract that gives the Mets a chance to see what he does, and gives the market some time to settle down. He's had the chance to see what pitching in New York is all about, and I believe he is motivated to show that 2004 was a fluke. He isn't as talented as Zito, and he's not left-handed, but if Peterson can help him find a consistent arm slot, he has the potential to be the Mets' #2 starter, and provide a significant upgrade to this staff.

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