Zito doesn't think deal will change him
Left-hander's $126 million contract with Giants now official
SAN FRANCISCO -- The thought of earning nearly $530,000 for each of his 34 starts for San Francisco in 2007 -- and for six years after that -- could be a bit intimidating for new starter Barry Zito.And being the No. 1 stopper, ace, rotation leader, teacher and the future franchise face of a storied ballclub could percolate the pressure to the boiling point, especially when it sinks in that his seven-year, $126 million contract is the highest in Major League history for a pitcher. So, will money and responsibility change the man? Probably not. One indication is Zito won't change his jersey number to "1" or wear a dollar sign, instead opting to stick with his favorite, No. 75, which to the uninitiated pegs the pitcher as either a Spring Training invitee or a rookie. "It seems like a good symmetrical number," laughed Zito. "I am 75, so that's exciting. It just looks good on the back. That's my opinion." The 2002 American League Cy Young winner, who honed a 103-62 record during his seven-season career with the Oakland A's, also believes that mind-boggling $126 million pact won't change his act. That means Zito will try to emulate only himself, a durable specimen -- six consecutive seasons of 200-plus innings -- who boasts a strong work and workout ethic and promises to trust what has made him one of the game's best pitchers. "It's a lot of years, and I'm so thankful there's such a commitment there, but honestly I don't think it affects me," he said during a conference call with Bay Area media Friday. "I won't become a superhuman cartoon character. I need to have perspective. That's one of the big things former players told me, to not try to live up to anything, just live up to yourself." Zito did say he's working out more diligently than ever this offseason, not because of superbucks but to get stronger physically while keeping his arm fresh and vibrant. "I'm trying to add muscle mass," said Zito. "I want to get lean and convert fat into muscle, come in a little more explosive. I'm focusing on core strength and great nutrition." Giants president and managing general partner Peter Magowan called Zito's signing the most important since Barry Bonds came aboard in late 1992, and he's conscious of the long-term deal's pitfalls. For the past two seasons, in which San Francisco placed third in the National League West, fans felt the team had neither the money nor the willpower to hire a high-profile player, one who could replace Bonds as the Giants' megastar. Now some are complaining Zito's price was too high, but while Magowan knows only time will prove him right or wrong, he's passionate about what Zito brings to the club -- energy, charisma, likability, a fan favorite. And, a pretty good pitcher to boot. "We don't make deals like this every year or every five years," Magowan said. "It's by far the largest signing ever for the Giants. We're aware of the risks involved in signing a pitcher to a contract as long as this one. "Look at his track record. He hasn't missed a start in the past six years, and look at his work regimen. Those three factors mitigate the risk."
Zito has long had a residence in San Francisco's Pacific Heights district, and while he's looking for new digs -- "near water and greenery grass and coffee shops," he said -- he admits the Bay Area's charms are multiple, including friends, favorite haunts, just the whole Northern California atmosphere.Still, Zito wasn't certain the Giants would or could sign him, and he envisioned moving elsewhere. He tried to separate himself from comfortable climes, knowing ahead lay a new town, new team, new state. But after having a long talk with Giants officials in Beverly Hills, he had a good feeling he could literally stay home. "I know I made the right decison being back in the Bay Area," he said. "The people are familiar with me, and it's a team I'm familiar with. It's such a beautiful park and having the commitment to winning from the owners' side had a lot to do with my decision." 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's 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. Previously, the largest contract for a pitcher was Mike Hampton's eight-year, $121 million deal with the Colorado Rockies before the 2001 season. 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. Ironically, all three pitchers to sign $100 million deals -- Zito, Hampton and Kevin Brown -- signed with NL West teams. Brown became baseball's first $100 million man when he signed with the Dodgers prior to 1999. 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).
Rich Draper is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.