On December 28th, 2006, the Giants signed 28-year-old lefty Barry Zito to a seven-year, $126MM contract with a full no-trade clause. At the time, it was the largest deal ever for a pitcher. Keep in mind that if Zito's 2014 option vests, his contract will end up paying $137MM. Henry Schulman and Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote that the Mets and Rangers were among four teams willing to go to seven years. The Mariners were also known to be in the mix.
Zito's first three seasons with the Giants have resulted in 568.6 innings of 4.56 ball. Even if the option doesn't vest, Zito will still earn $83MM over the next four seasons. It's safe to say this is one of the game's worst contracts, but let's see what people were saying at the time of the signing.
Rob Neyer, ESPN: "Based on the facts at hand, this looks to me like one of the dumber free-agent signings ever. Zito just isn't very good."
Jerry Crasnick, ESPN: "Except for his durability, Zito is not the personification of a staff ace…Still, when proven injury risks such as A.J. Burnett and Gil Meche receive five-year, $55 million deals, there's something to be said for taking the ball."
Keith Law, ESPN: "Zito should be billed for all the ink and electrons spilled over him in the last eight weeks, since the sports media seems to have fallen for the spin that he's actually some sort of ace pitcher, when in fact he's just a durable mid-rotation guy with good marketing…That's a guy you want to get into for seven years and a gazillion dollars?"
Joel Sherman, New York Post: "It is hard to criticize the Mets for not giving Zito the richest package ever for a pitcher, which is what it would have taken to sign him. There is no better predictor of durability for a pitcher than a track record of durability, which Zito has. But as one AL executive said, 'durability is finite and you always have to ask when it ends.'"
Ken Davidoff, Newsday: "In [the Mets'] sights, they had a pitcher who would have cost them only money. Who fit the team in so many ways, when there seemingly are no similar alternatives. And they whiffed."
Ben Shpigel, New York Times: "Zito will make the Giants a more formidable club in 2007, which is almost certain to be Bonds's last season in San Francisco. Assuming that Bonds breaks Hank Aaron's career home run mark next season and then says goodbye, the Giants could take the $16 million they are paying Bonds and reroute it to Zito's salary slot. In that sense, the money the Giants are paying Zito is not that outrageous."
Murray Chass, New York Times: "The Giants can boast all they want about Zito's durability, his six successive seasons of more than 200 innings and 34 or 35 starts, his history of never having been on the disabled list or even missing a start. It's still a dumb contract."
Phil Rogers, Chicago Tribune: "Yes, it's rather optimistic to give a 28-year-old lefty with diminishing stuff $18 million a year for seven years. The question isn't whether the Giants will rue making that commitment to Zito, but how quickly will it become apparent that Scott Boras did it again?"
Tracy Ringolsby, Rocky Mountain News: "Why on Earth would the Giants shell out a seven-year, $126 million contract for free agent Barry Zito? Zito's a nice pitcher, but he's a middle-of- the-rotation guy. The only No. 1 starter on the free-agent market this offseason was Jason Schmidt, and the Giants let him go."
I didn't offer much opinion on the deal, but here's the MLBTR thread from the signing in case you want to read the comments.