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Zito to sign with Giants

Free agent agrees to seven-year, $126 million deal

Posted: Thursday December 28, 2006 12:04PM; Updated: Friday December 29, 2006 10:58PM
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Barry Zito picked the Giants over a host of other suitors, including the Rangers and Mets.
Barry Zito picked the Giants over a host of other suitors, including the Rangers and Mets.
John Iacono/SI

By Jon Heyman, SI.com

Barry Zito has agreed in principle to a deal to jump across the Bay and join the San Francisco Giants after starring for six years with the rival Oakland A's, SI.com has learned.

Zito's big deal with the Giants is for $126 million over seven years.

The contract -- the largest ever for a pitcher -- also includes an option for an eighth year for $18 million (with a $7 million buyout) that could increase the total value to $137 million. The option will vest if Zito throws 200 innings in the final year of the deal, 400 innings over the last two years or 600 innings over the last three.

Zito picked the Giants over the Rangers, Mariners, Mets and Yankees, who were still trying to unload Randy Johnson before considering a real run at Zito.

MLB.com first reported Thursday morning that the Rangers expected Zito to sign with the Giants. The Rangers had put a deadline of this coming weekend on the star left-handed pitcher.

Zito's Giants deal will be finalized after he undergoes a physical.

Zito, who is 102-63 lifetime and won the 2002 AL Cy Young award, recently told the San Francisco Chronicle that he wanted to get market value, and he accomplished that and also got to stay at home by staying in the Bay Area. Zito has lived in San Francisco while playing for the A's, who made no effort to re-sign their former ace.

The original asking price for Zito was believed to be seven years for $119 million, so the pitcher actually beat his goal by getting $126 million (and beat Mike Hampton's record contract for a pitcher).

Zito, 28, gives the cross-Bay Giants a new No. 1 pitcher after they lost Jason Schmidt to the rival Dodgers. The Giants made a mild attempt to retain Schmidt, who's had shoulder troubles in the past. One of the advantages to Zito is that he's never been hurt and has never spent time on the disabled list.

"It's a huge piece of the puzzle as far as solidifying our rotation," fellow Giants lefty starter Noah Lowry told The Associated Press. "We have a couple of No. 1-caliber pitchers. I'm obviously going to be able to learn from him. I think the seasons as long as they are and as grueling as they can be, he hasn't missed a start. That says a lot about the guy and his durability."

Zito was also believed to be hoping to pitch in a major metropolitan area, and he accomplished that goal simply by staying home.

The Yankees were eyeing a run at Zito in recent days while trying to trade Johnson to a team out West. However, they have been unable to find a deal with the Diamondbacks, Padres or anyone else so far and were not about to reach the $126 million level for Zito anyway.

The Mets offered a five-year deal for between $75 million and $80 million and hoped to convince Zito that he could make up the difference by landing endorsements in New York. The Mets will now try to land a top-of-the-rotation starter through trade. They've talked to the A's about one of their starters -- notably Rich Harden, Danny Haren and Joe Blanton -- and the White Sox about Jon Garland and Javier Vazquez. However, the Mets have thus far been unwilling to trade their top prospect, pitcher Mike Pelfrey.

"We were not willing to go to the seven-year areas he said he had," said Mets general manager Omar Minaya, who conducted studies on the performances of pitchers with lengthy deals, told The Associated Press. "This is one guy who has been healthy, and we all wish him well. At the end of the day, the history ... I could not recommend to my ownership to go to seven guarantee years

The Rangers' offer to Zito was $84 million over six seasons with a vesting for a seventh season at $15 million.

The Yankees are believed still interested in trading Johnson. The Diamondbacks are probably the most likely landing spot since Johnson lives there and has a full no-trade clause. The Yankees have great interest in bringing back Roger Clemens when he decides to return.

The Mariners already acquired two starters this winter in Miguel Batista and Horacio Ramirez and were probably not as motivated as the Giants, who had the need for a starter.

Zito is scheduled to have a physical Friday, and the Giants planned to announce their agreement with the three-time All-Star later in the day, according to the Associated Press.

"We gave it our best shot," Rangers owner Tom Hicks said in an e-mail to the AP. "He's a great pitcher and a fine young man. I wish him well and am glad he's out of the AL West."

"It takes a lot of pressure off two people, which I think is very important," San Francisco's Mark Sweeney told the AP. "Matt Cain is one of them. Taking Jason Schmidt's spot is asking a lot. I think that would be pushing it a little bit, even though he's going to be our No. 1 for years and I think the world of him. And also Matt Morris, who is going to bounce back. He put a lot on his shoulders.

"I think it does a lot of that. It adds to the flexibility of our staff, too. Having Noah Lowry third or fourth is pretty good."