By Mike Steffanos
If you've been following the Barry Zito situation, you know that the only thing that might keep Barry from signing with the Mets is the supreme avarice of one of the most hated men in sports. Zito desperately wants to pitch in Shea Stadium next year, but Boras' Svengali-like influence over the young pitcher may literally force him to sign a lucrative contract to ply his trade somewhere else.
You would think that all these ballplayers who insist on signing with Boras would have learned by now that money can't buy happiness. Sadly, this is not the case. They continually allow him to score them contracts larger than the gross national product of many countries. It looks like that lovable lefty from California is heading down that same gloomy road. In his heart, he wishes to reunite with his beloved former pitching coach and pursue his acting career in the media capitol of the world, but Boras is whispering in his ear and hypnotizing him by waving wads of Tom Hicks' cash before his eyes. Can Barry resist his agent's wickedness and bring this fairy tale to a happy conclusion? Only time will tell...
Speaking of Barry, the New York Post's Michael Morrissey has volunteered to be the "glass half empty" guy for a second consecutive day. After reading the tea leaves yesterday and finding all sorts of ill omens in the Mets trip out west, today Morrissey goes after the object of that pursuit:
There is doubt steeped all over Barry Zito's situation. Primarily, it is doubt about whether he would take less money in New York or more money in Texas.
But there also is doubt about the pitcher himself: Whether he's already slipping, whether he's worth a six-year contract and whether the Mets would be making the right move in signing him.
As Met officials huddled with Zito and agent Scott Boras yesterday in greater Los Angeles, baseball sources were finishing a portrait of Zito, a 2002 Cy Young Award winner, as anything but a sure thing.
Morrissey goes on to quote those ubiquitous anonymous sources to prove his thesis that Zito is in decline. Actually, I enjoyed the story very much, and see a future in writing horror stories for Mr. Morrissey. He's a pretty gifted writer. And he's not wrong about signing Zito being risky.
It's hard to dispute the fact that Zito is already in a decline from the terrific Cy Young winning pitcher he was the first three years of his career. The velocity is down on his fastball and all his statistics have tended the wrong way over the past 3 years. It's also beyond doubt that Zito will make more than he is really worth from this contract. Still, I wouldn't characterize him as a guaranteed failure, either, and some of the quotes that Morrissey uses are a little dubious -- particularly from a scout who claims to have seen Zito pitch twice in the last couple of years and talks about how the southpaw has "slipped." Really, you could tell this from seeing him twice in two years?
In any case, the Mets are pursuing Barry Zito because they have to. I don't think they would be pushing to sign him if Pedro was healthy going into next year. Provided that they can make a deal that is acceptable to the team, signing Barry Zito will be the right move, despite the fact that he's not a true "ace" anymore. The key here is that it must be the right deal.
I think most of my regular readers caught the sarcasm in the opening two paragraphs. Scott Boras is not a malicious being; he's just a sports agent who has a real skill in getting teams to pay more than they should for players. Sometimes it's a minor overpayment, such as the Beltran contract. Sometimes it's more drastic, such as Chan Ho Park or Alex Rodriguez. What all these signings have in common, however, is that there was never a gun to a team owner's head. Boras is a very smart agent, but that's all he is. If he had secret powers, he would have used them to get the Yankees into the bidding on Carlos Beltran.
The Mets seem to have gone into these negotiations with a clear idea of what Barry Zito is worth to them. As long as they're willing to stick with this, they'll do fine. Teams falter with Boras when they get so infatuated with one player that they go way beyond what that player is really worth to them. Boras is a master of playing off this type of situation. In the end, though, the Mets need to stick to the value they have placed on Barry Zito, being prepared to move on if that's not good enough. Ultimately, if Zito pitches elsewhere, it's because the player himself decided to do it. We hear these stories about how Boras somehow forces these players to sign somewhere against their better judgment. I don't buy this for a second.
I hope the Mets sign Zito, because I think they need him. If he doesn't come here, though, I know I will be reading a Wallace Matthews tirade about how the Mets "lost" Barry Zito because of $10 million or one year or whatever it is that separates them from the winning bidder. Just as it's smart business for Scott Boras to convince teams to spend more than they should on players, it's equally smart for teams to say "no" when the bidding passes what they believe is a sensible offer. Teams that allow an agent to manipulate them past that point have only themselves to blame, not Scott Boras.
By the way, if you're reading this Mr. Boras, I'm in the process of some major life-changing events. I could use some of your negotiating prowess working on my side over the next few months. If you're willing to take me on, I promise not to blame you for whatever I choose to do as the results of your negotiations on my behalf. Of course, your usual commission is probably higher than my projected earnings for the remainder of my life, but I'm sure we could work something out. I make an excellent pasta sauce, so I can offer you some good eating while you mesmerize prospective employers on my behalf.