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Life Without Barry

Mike SteffanosWednesday, December 27, 2006
By Mike Steffanos


As expected, there's plenty of talk today about a possible Randy Johnson deal and how that might free the Yankees to enter the Zito sweepstakes at a time when some of the more serious players seem to be dropping out. The Rangers seem to be tiring of the impression that they are no more than a means for Scott Boras to ratchet up the final price, and have placed a deadline of this weekend for Zito to take them up on their offer. So far, no team has apparently been willing to give Boras the nine-figure commitment he is said to be looking for.

But now the Yankees are hovering around the edges of this soap opera, possible fallback options such as Jeff Suppan are falling off the board, and Mets fans who want to see Zito in Queens next season are breaking into a cold sweat. I still personally believe that the Yankees interest in the free agent southpaw is overblown, more the product of what some writers see as a logical move for the Yankees than what the Bronx Bullies really intend to do.

For all the logic that some pundits see in Barry Zito in pinstripes, I think the logic against it is more compelling. The Yankees have shown no interest in Zito and are working to cut their bloated payroll. As Murray Chass points out in the Times, Zito's numbers have been slipping against the Yankees' AL east foes. So while it's impossible to completely discount the possibility of the Yankees jumping into the chase, I wouldn't bet the farm on it.

Whether the Highlanders inject themselves into the equation or not, the Mets should not allow that to affect their pursuit of Barry Zito. Whether you agree with it or not, it's been obvious that Minaya and company have not placed the same priority on signing Zito as they have in previous courtships of Pedro Martinez, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado and Billy Wagner. Whereas they were ready to outbid all others to secure those signings, this time they seem to have placed a value on the southpaw that they can to live with, and they appear to be prepared to allow him to walk away if things escalate into a Mike Hampton/Kevin Brown-type deal.

Lisa and I are currently shopping for a house. Our price range will unfortunately keep us away from the type of homes that you immediately fall in love with. Still, we've seen a couple so far that we liked more than all the others, and one in particular that we both could really picture ourselves living in for the next few years. We made a decision going into things that we wouldn't fall in love with any house to the point where we weren't prepared to walk away from it if we made an offer that we thought was fair and the owner balked. In some ways, that's how I see the Mets' efforts with Zito. They've looked at his strengths and weaknesses and what he might bring, and they've placed a value on it. As with home shopping, that works fine, as long as you're willing to walk away if things don't work out. Despite the protestations of some of the pundits, I do believe the Mets are truly prepared to walk away if things get out of hand, and it's not just some posturing to keep the price down.

Because of that, I have more confidence in there being fallback plans in place if Zito doesn't sign. While I have admittedly come around to hoping he does sign with the Mets, I'm a little more relaxed about the possibility that he won't. There's more than one way to skin a cat or compete for a title. As I wrote a while back, in an era when starting pitching dominated the game much more than it does now, the 1975 Cincinnati Reds won a title with a nondescript rotation and an exceptional bullpen. I have confidence that Minaya can find a way if Zito heads elsewhere.

A good friend of mine told me over the holiday that he couldn't live without Zito. He was kidding, I hope, but there was some reflection of how he really felt. He's been riding a rollercoaster with all of the daily speculation. The Yankee rumors have given him severe agita. It's funny, because I was thinking about what he said while I was hiking the other day on a mountain near my house. I was near the summit when I spotted a piece of paper leaning against a tree. It was a note that someone had written to a deceased loved one and left in a spot that I assumed had some significance to them both when they were together.

I read enough of the note to realize what it was and put it back. I don't know whether it was legit or a hoax -- people do weird things sometimes -- but it seemed heartfelt and made me think of the people in my life that I really couldn't live without. Somehow, no baseball players made that list.

Note: This piece was written before Zito signed that insane contract with the Giants, but the sentiments still apply.

About Mike: I was the original writer on this web site, actually its only writer for the first 15 months of existence. Although I am grateful for the excellent contributions of my fellow writers here, I have no plans of stepping back into strictly an editorial role. I started this thing in the first place because I love to write and I love the Mets, and blogging here keeps me somewhat sane. If you haven't had enough already, more bio info can be found here.

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Comments (7)

hi mike - pete and i always have one rule while house shopping - we refuse to get into a bidding war...in addition, we set an amount we decide a particular house is worth and we don't go past that amount when negotiating and guess what - we've lost 3 houses but life goes on and we truly believe whats meant to be is meant to be...and i've agreed with you all along re: zito - he'd be great to have at a reasonable contract that we can live with long term - in other words, on our terms... and i know we're in the minority, but for what its worth - i'm with ya! and all this zito stuff is giving me a headache!! PS i don't think the yankees are so smart wth their contractual or personnel decisions because they don't have a problem
"eating" their mistakes...thats the way they choose to run their organiztion - it would not be the way i would want omar to run ours at this point in time...happy new year to you and lisa and good luck finding the perfect house!

Mike,

I'm not a great negotiator by nature. My wife and I bought our first car because we NEEDED a new one. We did the same thing the next time, and the time after that. As a result, we probably paid more than we should have for less car than we could have afforded. It was a dramatically different negotiation when we bought our last car a few years ago, BEFORE the one we owned was coughing and sputtering. We knew that if we didn't get what we wanted, it was okay, because we didn't desperately NEED it.

Sure enough, that confidence knocked some dollars off the car we eventually purchased, and got us a couple of extras thrown in for free.

Same with the Zito negotiations - on both sides. Just because the Mets didn't come in at top dollar with their first offer doesn't mean they don't want him. They just don't desperately NEED him.

And just because Barry's not filling out any change of address forms yet with a zip code beginning with a one-oh or one-one doesn't mean he doesn't want to play here. All it means is that his agent is doing everything he can to prove to his client that he's workin' real hard to squeeze every buck out of somebody. Anybody.

It's a dance, and with no box scores for us fans to read, we've got nothing to do but eyeball every tiny move, or perceived move, on both sides.

Great analogy!

However, I think the Mets need Zito more than your arguement(s) give creedence to.

1. As I alluded to in my last writing I think Ollie Perez is the reason (or part) for the bargaining stance:
a. Ollie has been the Pittsburgh ace (granted)
b. He was in Pitt a CY Young caliber arm/vote getter
c. Is 4 yrs younger than Zito
d. Given the NLCS performance where is Ollie compared to Zito.

I am NOT saying Ollie compares to Zito. But if Omar walks away I can only think he sees Ollie as part of his back up plan.

2. Who is better than Zito? I cannot see an ace on the horizon who can fit at Shea more than Zito. Carlos Zambrano...not likely to be allowed to be a FA
Dtrain not a FA for a while. Our NLCS rotation devoid of Traxx, El Duque and El Pedro ...with Maine, Ollie and a subpar Glavine almost made that WS dream. If Zito was added who knows.

Ed,

I agree. I want Zito, we'll be better with him, he's the best available out there, and I don't think it's a mortal sin to overpay - a little - for him. Ollie deserves a shot at the rotation; it's just a matter of whether he'll be a 3, a 4 or a 5. That depends on signing Zito, and seeing which of the two, Maine or Perez, comes up bigger in the pre-season.

I've never been more optimistic going into a season that I am right now. Not in 1987, not in 2001, and definitely not in 1974, since the '73 NL East race was a freak of nature.

The closest I can come to how I'm feeling is the winter of '84, after seeing a rookie named Gooden tear it up. I knew we'd be in the thick of the post-season then; I just didn't know how soon or for how long. That's what I'm sensing right now.

Joyce - Thanks for the house-hunting tips. This whole thing is giving me a headache, too. For what it's worth, I really doubt the Yankees have an interest in Zito, and still figure this is his most likely destination.
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NostraDennis - As I said to Joyce, I do think he's still most likely to come here, but you never know if someone will go off the deep end and give him a crazy deal. By the way, I agree with your optimism from the later comment.
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Ed - I'd like to see them add Zito. I can see him being important this year while waiting for the kids to mature and next replacing Glavine. Like I said, though, the Mets seem to have placed a number on where they are willing to go, and that's smart. I'm looking forward to seeing some spring training games and seeing how much progress Perez has made.

Mike;

You bring up a great point(s).
a. 1987; After the WS, we 'improved' by trading future MVP Mitchell for K Mcreynolds, and adding Cid to the rotation.
b. 1989: After the Kirk Gibson show, I believe we added Frank Viola in trade for Dave west, Kevin tapani and Rick aguilera.
c. In 2001; We lost Hampton (baseball lost Hampton), and we added Appier.

All these represent let downs after glorious seasons. Lets hope we do better this time. Last yr we were picked by NO ONE. A rotation of 42yr old glavine, 43 yr old El Duque, a broken Pedro (who cant pitch till late next yr) Ollie, Maine, Humber, et al will scare no one!!!

But given the remaining options: I'd test Mulder & Joel Pinero and add a bullpen arm. Likely too, given his age El Duque is a starter only untill Pedro is healthy, or humber/Pelfrey/Devaney prove themselves. At which point he becomes that (or part of the) 5th-7th inning bridge.

Ed - I wouldn't bet against El Duque starting 25 games next season, particularly if they don't pick up a starter.

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