The Future Of Barry Zito

Giants lefty Barry Zito has thrown 14 scoreless innings across two starts to begin his 2013 season.  Why does this matter?  As Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News notes, Zito will trigger an $18MM option for 2014 if he reaches 200 innings this season.  Furthermore, Zito would have the option of taking a $3.5MM buyout and becoming a free agent instead.

When I mentioned this a week ago, I didn't give much thought to the idea of Zito reaching 200 innings — he hasn't done it since his 2006 contract year with the A's.  But now, he has 14 innings in the books for his first two starts.  Here are his innings pitched per start numbers as a Giant:

  • 2007: 5.93
  • 2008: 5.63
  • 2009: 5.82
  • 2010: 6.01
  • 2011: 5.52
  • 2012: 5.76

If we generously assume that Zito will make 33 starts this year, he needs 186 over his final 31, for an average of exactly six innings per start from here on out.  Zito is capable of pulling this off, but I would not bet on it.

If Zito does reach 200 innings, Kawakami suggests the 2014 option triggering would be a good thing for the Giants.  That's because the Giants would have to pay a hefty $7MM buyout if Zito does not reach the threshold, so it's really a marginal cost of $11MM.  He makes a good point.  

Kawakami also notes that Zito could choose $3.5MM and free agency, instead.  If Zito could demand a two-year, $26.5MM deal (as Ryan Dempster did), plus the $3.5MM buyout, would that be better than just taking the $18MM for one year?  Yes, unless Zito is relatively certain he could get more than $12MM for his age 37 season in 2015.  If Zito does opt for free agency, I think the Giants would be unlikely to make a qualifying offer.

Zito's agent, Scott Boras, will be a big factor if he reaches 200 innings.  Boras is likely to push for free agency, as he has so many times before in these situations.

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