Zito awarded largest contract for pitcher in MLB history

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – The Bay Area’s other Barry is the new face of the San Francisco Giants – now and well into the future.

Barry Zito and the Giants reached a preliminary agreement on the largest contract for a pitcher in baseball history, a $126 million, seven-year deal. Zito joins the Giants three weeks after the club came to terms on a $16 million, one-year contract with slugger Barry Bonds for a 15th season.

Zito’s father, Joe, and Zito’s publicist, Kathy Jacobson, confirmed the deal, while the Giants were waiting for Zito to take a physical Friday before making things official. San Francisco planned to formally introduce the three-time All-Star sometime next week.

“I think it’s a very, very good fit,” Joe Zito said. “Truly, I am respectful of the owners who came forward and would believe in Barry to such a degree that they would go this far. I am profoundly respectful of that. He is truly happy.”

Zito, the 2002 AL Cy Young Award winner with a nasty curveball and eccentric personality, has never missed a start in his career and is eager to help the Giants become a contender again. San Francisco has missed the playoffs the past three seasons.

“It’s a huge piece of the puzzle as far as solidifying our rotation,” fellow Giants lefty starter Noah Lowry said. “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 will lead a rotation that features Matt Cain, coming off a strong rookie season, Lowry and Matt Morris. The fifth spot is still to be determined.

Zito’s agreement, reached late Wednesday night, includes an $18 million option for 2014 with a $7 million buyout that could increase the value to $137 million. The option would become guaranteed if Zito pitches 200 innings in 2013, 400 combined over 2012 and 2013 or 600 combined from 2011-13. Zito also has a full no-trade clause.

The deal ties for the sixth largest overall, matching the $126 million, seven-year extension agreed to this month by Toronto and center fielder Vernon Wells. The Giants were looking for someone to fill the void left when ace Jason Schmidt departed earlier this month for the rival Los Angeles Dodgers.

“A lot of money,” Zito’s former Oakland teammate Mark Ellis said. “I was shocked. That’s great for him. That’s a good place for him. There couldn’t be a better fit I don’t think. Obviously, we wanted him in Oakland.”

Giants general manager Brian Sabean had said the team had money to spend for a top pitcher, and Bonds agreed to defer some of the money from his new contract to give the team flexibility to improve the roster.

The Giants’ top brass – including owner Peter Magowan, executive vice president Larry Baer, Sabean and new manager Bruce Bochy – had a long dinner with the 28-year-old and his agent, Scott Boras, at the Peninsula hotel in Beverly Hills on Nov. 26.

“I know he told me that when he met with the ownership of the Giants, he was really taken aback. Even the initial hello meeting, he really liked everybody,” Joe Zito said. “Barry just really loves the Bay Area. He always has. It’s home to him.

“He is on a mission like I’ve never seen. It’s all about baseball, all about winning multiple World Series.”

Previously, the largest contract for a pitcher was Mike Hampton’s $121 million, eight-year deal with the Colorado Rockies before the 2001 season. Kevin Brown received a $105 million deal from 1999-05. Both players have dealt with injury problems and struggled, with Brown going 72-45 during his contract and Hampton posting a 53-48 record so far.

Texas, Seattle and the New York Mets also pursued Zito, the top available pitcher on the free-agent market.

“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.”

Zito, who spent the last seven seasons pitching with the Athletics, has been among the most durable pitchers in the majors, making 34 or more starts and throwing 210 or more innings in six straight seasons. He went 16-10 with a 3.83 ERA last season and has a 102-63 career record with a 3.55 ERA. He won the 2002 AL Cy Young Award after going 23-5.

As part of his agreement, Zito will fund the construction of youth fields in the San Francisco area through his foundation. He also founded “Strikeouts for Troops” in 2005 to help wounded service members and their families.

Only Alex Rodriguez ($252 million), Derek Jeter ($189 million), Manny Ramirez ($160 million), Todd Helton ($141.5 million) and Alfonso Soriano ($136 million) have contracts with more guaranteed money.

Zito’s is the 14th $100 million deal in baseball history and the fourth of the offseason following agreements by Soriano (Cubs), Wells and Carlos Lee ($100 million with Houston).

New York’s initial offer was for about $75 million over five years, and the Mets were prepared to go somewhat higher in average salary but were wary of offering a longer deal.

“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. “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.”

Zito’s decision to sign with the Giants first was reported on MLB.com.

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