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Objective Fan? Is there such a thing?

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Most have you have probably seen this article and its subsequent AN diary, but for me, this raises some interesting points about sentimentality vs. reality for players who wear the green and gold. Try as we might, it is very difficult sometimes to weigh our feelings about players who played well for our team against the overall picture of what is best for the team's future.

I'm lousy at fantasy baseball because I want to draft all A's players. As you can imagine, a fantasy team of all A' not good. Yet there is something ingrained in me that roots for the uniform of the green and gold, and even at moments when I know that the off-season decisions are the correct decision for the future of the A's ballclub, I still find myself fighting against losing players that I've grown to love.

At sixteen years old, I cried when Jose Canseco was traded in the middle of a game. I had similar feelings losing Rickey. I didn't react well when Hudson and Mulder were traded back-to-back, even though I knew that the right decision had been made. I knew it at the time; the decisions have been proved correct in the subsequent years (Mulder was actually as close to a 'steal' trade as they come), yet I still had a feeling of loss that I think extended beyond mere sentimentality as I dealt with the reality of losing yet another Athletic.

It's happening again, and I see the varied reactions even on AN. "We'll be better off without Zito." "Zito is too expensive." "Zito just wasn't that good. Remember the time ____." I often wonder if some of those reactions aren't fans steeling themselves against another loss; after all, if you aren't emotionally attached to a player, than it doesn't hurt when he's gone, right? And unlike the losses of Hudson and Mulder, we've had plenty of time to prepare for this one. It's only natural. Yet, taking a closer look, is it possible that some of those sentiments could actually be objective?

Keith Law from ESPN writes:

Zito is a third or fourth starter with the reputation of a one or a two. In fact, over the last three years, he's struggled badly when facing the two premier offenses in the AL, posting a 6.59 ERA against Boston and the Yankees while walking 47 men and allowing 18 homers in 83.3 innings. His control is below-average; only Daniel Cabrera has walked more batters in the last two years than Zito has. And should Zito's stuff slip at all, he becomes a fifth starter or a guy who needs to head to the National League, the current destination for asylum-seekers who fear AL persecution of their fringy fastballs.

Ignoring the fact that he ranked Gil Meche higher than Zito on the desirable free agent list, which was tantamount to Neyer picking the Rangers to win the West in September of this year, when the A's held a five-game lead, he's right about more than I'd like to admit.

I love Barry Zito. I have many, many great memories of that unreal curveball. His whole career, and especially his career postseason, is simply littered with big-game performances; some that he didn't win--thanks to the Jeter-flipTM and Tweedle-Mecir and Tweedle-Rincon, and some he did--culminating with besting Johan Santana in a most improbable victory this year. He's the last remaining member of the 'Big-Three', Oakland's only certifiable ace of the last two years, and has been 'durable guy' on a team that really should buy stock in Aflac.

That being said, no one knows better than the A's that you simply cannot pay for past performance, nor can you lock up a pitcher at an inflated contract simply because he's pitched well for you. Zito has pitched well, despite--and maybe even because of--his walk total. When you don't have much of a fastball, you best not be throwing all strikes, all the time. Zito can perform in the big games. Zito has not yet been any kind of an injury risk, but again, that does not guarantee health for the future.

I think my initial rankling at the Law article was based on my feelings on Zito's career with the A's. The results don't lie; Zito was one of our decade's best pitchers. Yet is it a wise decision to resign him, really, at any kind of a fair-market price?

And should Zito's stuff slip at all, he becomes a fifth starter or a guy who needs to head to the National League, the current destination for asylum-seekers who fear AL persecution of their fringy fastballs.

All true. I personally think Zito is perfectly suited for the NL, and I think he will be a terrific #3, possibly even #2 starter on a decent team. Heck, if we could afford him, I'd put him right back in the A's thin rotation for 2007. But as it currently stands, for the good of the A's future, and probably for Zito himself, he will be moving onto the next team of his career, as he should.

Logically, I agree with this decision. In fact, I fully support it. Yet, as an A's fan? The day Zito signs with another team will be an emotional one. Seeing him pitch in another uniform will hurt. And all the objectivity in the entire world just won't make me feel any better.