It’s too early to think about eating Barry Zito’s contract


The roller coaster that is Barry Zito's left arm has already thrown two spring training starts and it treated San Francisco Giants fans to a different extreme each time out.

On March 1, Zito walked five of the 13 Chicago Cubs he faced, prompting Bruce Jenkins of the San Francisco Chronicle to write that the well-paid pitcher was "walking a very fine line within the organization." Jenkins even cited a source who said that the San Francisco Giants would consider eating the rest of Zito's sizable contract.

On Wednesday, however,  Zito inspired some relative hope by giving up only one hit and one walk over five shutout innings against the Chicago White Sox. And presto! The storyline quickly morphed into Zito possibly being a serviceable fifth starter behind the team's current quartet of stalwart starters.

Zito's prior track record suggests that we're always going to boomerang between both poles as long as he's allowed to start games. And it's that wild inconsistency that has led bloggers like Aaron Gleeman to suggest it's foolish to say the Giants should grab a knife and fork (and definitely some hot sauce) so they can start eating the $65 million they owe Zito through 2014.

Look, it'd be one thing if Zito was bombing every time out. And it'd be another if they had any other options for that fifth spot other than old Jeff Suppan (who's in camp competing for a spot in the team's bullpen).

But the truth is that we've long come to terms with the fact that the Giants handed out one of history's worst contracts when they gave Zito seven years and $126 million. The money is already gone and they're left with a pitcher who should be making the salary of someone who's league average. But that point is now irrelevant. {YSP:MORE}

Most of the time he'll disappoint, like he did over the stretch run for a playoff spot last season (including walking in two Padres batters in the first inning of a game on the final Saturday). But he also has the potential for the type of stretch he started 2010 with (9-4 with a 3.10 ERA in his first 13 starts). He may not have made the postseason roster, but that should also be irrelevant. In the context of the regular season, he still has value as an innings eater, especially since Madison Bumgarner is just 21 years old and threw only 111 innings last season.

Bring him back and who knows what happens? Perhaps Zito goes on a run, picks up some trade value and the Giants aren't stuck with his whole tab for four more seasons. Maybe one of the top four starters goes down and Zito is asked to pitch a few more starts than he would as the fifth starter. Or maybe he continues to flame out further. At least the Giants would have the full assurance that he is a completely sunk cost and that it doesn't matter if they eat the cash now or later.

Yes, the possibilities are many, but the Giants' current reality seems clear: As long as that cash bonfire is going, they may as well try to roast a few marshmallows.