How cool would it be if Barry Zito, who starred for the A's for seven seasons then got rich but toiled in mediocrity elsewhere, returned to Oakland to rejuvenate his career and lead the A's to --
Realistically, while Oakland's signing of Zito, to a minor league deal worth $1M if Zito makes the big league roster, has a "Hey, that's cool" factor I expect Zito's re-tenure in Oakland to be on par with the A's careers of Manny Ramirez and Ryan Langerhans. Here's why...
Rule Out The Bullpen
There is just no reason for the A's to put Zito into the bullpen mix, leaving him to compete with Oakland's starting pitching for a spot at some point. Over his career, Zito has virtually no L/R splits (LH hitters have batted .245/.329/.332 while RH hitters have batted .246/.346/.322) and the A's are not going to pay Zito $1M to be a LOOGY when behind Fernando Abad they have a good option at league minimum in Eury De La Rosa. Nor are the A's going to pay $1M for a long reliever and mop-up man when they are swimming in available options from Sean Nolin, Chris Bassitt and Pat Venditte to Arnold Leon and Pat Venditte's other arm.
Starting Pitching Depth Chart
Where a strong spring training or April in AAA could leave Zito on the depth chart is anybody's guess because Zito has one thing going for him: His addition to the big league roster is not a "service time issue" like it is for Kendall Graveman, Sean Nolin, Chris Bassitt. So Zito could be used to keep a younger player at AAA.
Still, the A's would have to squint awfully hard to justify putting more faith in the 36-year old, 84-MPH tossing, 2014-absent Zito over the cadre of promising, big league ready arms available to them. How many injuries or failures would it take for Zito to make sense as an option for the A's rotation? Probably about four if the depth chart falls something like this:
Worried about Graveman's service time or meteoric rise? Insert Chavez. Injury to a presumed member of the rotation? Insert Nolin. Need another SP? Insert Bassitt. It's hard for me to imagine a scenario where Zito, on his own merit, jumps past those guys on the depth chart.
How Does Zito Look These Days?
How does the grizzled, velocity-impaired, well-rested-that's-for-sure version of Barry Zito look on the mound these days? I haven't seen him throw, but several teams have. The A's were not one of them, and every team that watched him took a pass. That can't be a good sign.
Why Sign Him, Then?
So then why did the A's take a flyer on Zito? For one thing, it's a risk free flyer because it's a minor league deal. "You can never have too much pitching" and if Oakland were to have another Parker-Griffin tee-jay-esstravaganza they would rather have a depth chart 10 deep rather than 9.
Mostly, though, I suspect the signing was a favor to Zito by fellow San Diego native Billy Beane. The A's were apparently not interested enough to send someone to watch Zito's showcase, but when the lefty had no suitors why not offer him a minor league deal and give Zito a chance to pitch, maybe establish that he may have something left to offer a team suddenly in need of a starting pitcher?
Undoubtedly the A's would let Zito out of his contract if Oakland had no need for him and he drew mid-season interest elsewhere. Zito needs a place to pitch and Oakland has a team in Nashville that needs to fill out a rotation. No risk, depth, and mostly a favor. If Zito throws another major league pitch, it may be more likely to be with another team than with the A's. But it's still a fun story.