By Mike Steffanos
The new that the Yankees are exploring trading Randy Johnson and possibly entering the Barry Zito sweepstakes seems to be putting a chill into the hearts of some Mets fans. I've read speculation by Ben Shpigel in the New York Times and Jon Heyman at SI.com that clearing the Big Eunuch's salary might allow the Yankees to jump into the Zito sweepstakes as a late wildcard entrant. What I haven't seen is any real evidence that the Yankees, looking to cut payroll and lukewarm at best towards Zito, have any real interest in doing this. Until I hear anything definitive otherwise, I find it difficult to take this all that seriously.
This doesn't mean, however, that I believe that it's a sure thing that Barry Zito will pitch in Shea in 2007. I think that some west coast teams and possibly the Rangers still have something to say about it. While the Mets probably make the most sense for Zito of all remaining teams, I don't get any sense that they possess any huge advantage -- particularly when they refuse to throw the vault wide open to entice the southpaw here.
I don't believe that Jeff Suppan signing with Milwaukee or the moves the White Sox have already made have thrown the Mets front office into panic, and I don't believe that a failure to secure Zito will, either. I think Omar has looked at all of the options, placed a value on each, and knows what he's comfortable with giving up for all of them. I think a trade is still a possibility, with January being the time when that's most likely to occur, as it did last year with the Seo and Benson deals. The idea of Suppan's signing or coming up short on Zito catching him by surprise and throwing things into some wild state of panic is just ludicrous to me.
Minaya has shown in the past he won't let anything stop him from getting what he really wants (See the Pedro, Beltran and Wagner signings). I think what really bothers some people is that he doesn't seem to covet Zito with the same fervor shown in these previous pursuits. As for me, I agree with a strategy that establishes what the team feels that Zito would be worth to them and sticks to it. I really do hope the Mets get Zito, because I feel the most likely alternative will involve trading pitching prospects to bring back a starter. I just can't fault Minaya if he feels there is a limit to what he is willing to give to Barry Zito, and goes a different way.
Perhaps the Yankees really will come along and sweep Zito away to the Bronx. Maybe the Giants will win out on the southpaw. So be it. You may not agree with the decision, and that's a serious fan's prerogative. I don't agree with everything Omar does, either. I just can't buy into this idea that what another free-spending team or capricious free agent does is going to throw a monkey wrench into the season, or catch the Mets without a backup plan. The Yankees are coming? So what?