Barry Zito Exiled to an Expensive Elba

zitoLet’s understand several things about the San Francisco Giants and starter Barry Zito. Whether Zito deserved to be part of the San Francisco Giants twenty-five man roster in the upcoming National League Division Series is, ultimately, not the point. And to be clear, Zito’s desultory final start last Saturday against the San Diego Padres, during which he walked two batters with the bases loaded in the first inning, was not the “final straw” that pushed management to leave Zito at the station when the playoff train departed.

This is an organization that spent 15 years and $148.7 million, from 1993 through 2007, devoted to a single high-priced player named Barry Bonds. At first Bonds delivered, with record-breaking excitement, post season play, and a new ballpark. But over time Bonds was allowed to hold the organization hostage, finally focusing a negative national spotlight on the team throughout the worst of the steriod era.

Three years later, the Giants have a rebuilt team backed by a retooled minor league system, and they are flourishing on the verge of making fresh, new franchise history. San Francisco’s trip to the 2010 post-season is the final distancing from the Bonds era, the final moving on from the worst of times for the organization. 

And now, with another player making Bondsian money, the Giants have reversed the field. Zito’s off the chart $126 million contract will not hold this team hostage to playing him in the post-season because their moving-on mission is too important, their need to put different names in the record books too compelling to field a player simply because he is one of the highest paid in Major League Baseball..

Barry Zito is a proud and talented athlete with a Cy Young Award in his resume. But although Zito started the 2010 season 4-0, his final record this season was 9-14, meaning he went 5-14 after April. In truth Zito, who has a combined 40-57 record in four years as a Giant, has never performed to team expectations. That final game against the Padres is simply a convenient excuse to justify his exile.

The Giants may have been forced to keep Zito on the regular season roster because of his $18.5 million a year salary, but they have demonstrated that will not force the team to play him in the Division Series. This is a team that wants to win, and a franchise that needs to win.

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