Barry Zito's signing represents a sign of the times, not an aberration. As we project the A's future payrolls, contract obligations, and dabblings in free agency, here's a question:
Would it EVER make sense for the A's to pay as much for a player - ANY player - as the Giants are paying Barry Zito?
I would argue no.
When your payroll is 75 million or less, it doesn't make sense to pay a pitcher 18 million AAV. That's 24% of the team payroll...and regardless of how much you like Zito, was he 24% of the team's success last year? He only played one-fifth of the games! Even when he did, there were at least nine other guys contributing.
Using minimal math (although it truly is worthy of crunching numbers on), I'd say Zito accounted for...10% of the A's success in '06. Again, he only plays one out of five games, so placing him above 20% is ridiculous. Within those games he does play, the offense and the bullpen are still contributing greatly to the overall outcome. Essentially he is the most important factor in the outcome of 1/5 of our games. And, in defense of his importance, he had a pretty good year as our No. 1 starter.
The point is, he'd never justify 24% of our payroll. Does he justify approximately 19% of the Giants payroll? Probably not, for the same reasons.
There are rare times in history when you could argue a player's performance over the course of the season represented 24% of a team's success. Bonds 2001-2004 seasons come to mind. Off the top of my head, he represented approximately 40% of the team's offense or more, which means he may have come CLOSE to representing 24% of his team's overall success (keep in mind, he didn't throw one pitch).
But again, those seasons of Bonds' were extraordinary cases, unduplicated before or since (getting on-base 61% of the time, hitting 73 homeruns, fitted hat size growing from a 7 to a 12). It would be hard to find another player who represented 20% or more of his team's success - and therefore, justified 20% or more of their payroll.
Something the A's do very well is distributing/minimizing their risk.
Look at their highest-paid players - Chavez, Kendall (we don't owe the full 13 million next year), Loiaza, Kotsay...we are paying all of them within a few million of each other. Chavez does not make even 13% of our payroll, and he's our highest-paid guy. Not coincidentally, the A's have better clubhouse chemistry than most teams. It doesn't do well for the clubhouse when one guy makes almost twice as much as anyone else doing the same job. (think about ARod and how much his fellow Bombers love him. Or, to a lesser extent, Bonds and his SF teammates).
When a small-market team dumps its tiny fortunes into one player, years of futility can result with just one injury. (Sweeney in KC, Griffey in Cincy).
I don't think you'll ever see the A's go that route, either with their homegrown guys, or with flashy FAs. And I think that will hold true even after Cisco Field, when our payroll may expand to 90 million or so. Having 90 million wouldn't make committing 20 million of it annually to one player any smarter of a decision.
And I, for one, am glad they avoid the tempting splashy signing. It takes fiscal restraint, but the reward has been years of consistent winning against all odds.
Zito will only have the largest pitcher contract in history for a year at most.
Pitchers who will out-earn Zito eventually:
Zambrano: FA after next year
Sabathia: 9 million the next two years, FA in '08
Santana: 4 yr., 40 million deal expires in '08
Willis: FA in '09
These guys, like Zito, all hit the bigs in their early 20s and will become FAs young enough that they can make paydays greater than Zito. Santana will be an FA at age 29 but his overall brilliance may garner him a payday bigger than Zito's anyway. (Although 6 years, 130 million - a ballpark figure - would be a lot to pay for a Pedro-like body that will probably break down younger than Zito or the other three listed above.
Sabathia, Willis, and Santana will all be unaffordable to their current teams just as Zito was for us.
-It wouldn't be shocking for the Mets to try to put Milledge and young pitching prospects in a package to the Indians for Sabathia or to the Marlins for Willis. Willis may be harder for the Marlins to trade than Sabathia is for the Indians, because Willis is a marketable icon down there (minor DUI incident aside), and it would hurt them P.R. wise in the middle of a pivotal P.R. time as they try to build a stadium.
Those considerations are revelant to A's fans because both of those guys are more desirable to Minaya than Blanton would be. If they were locked up to extensions (almost inconceivable now, given the market), Blanton/other A's starters would become more attractive to Minaya.