Pulling the trigger on Zito
In 2005, Gwen Knapp proposed that the A’s trade Barry Zito, he of the Cy Young award and two All Star appearances to date, to the Giants for the territorial rights to Santa Clara County. I had remarked that the concept wasn’t that far-fetched, though readers noted that Knapp was probably was writing with tongue placed firmly in cheek. Now there’s talk that the Giants may waive Zito outright, with two years and $46 million ($7 million buyout in 2014) remaining on his contract.
With the Giants not budging on territorial rights, $19-20 million for each of the next two years is a lot to waste with Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain accruing service time in the process, and Brandon Belt looking not ready for prime time. The team is raking in the dough, for sure, but with the mortgage on AT&T Park they aren’t exactly up in the revenue stratosphere with the Red Sox and Yankees. That means that they’ll need every bit of that $19-20 million if they want to sign a Prince Fielder-type, who have (post-Bonds) been reluctant to play out their careers at hitter-unfriendly China Basin. Even for the Giants, windows of contention are finite, though longer than for, say, the A’s.
The A’s will have a largish revenue sharing check coming this offseason, and they usually have the ability to absorb additional salary up to a $75 million payroll, based on their annual revenue. They could conceivably take Zito in a trade for scraps (ex.: Josh Outman), which would limit payroll flexibility for the A’s while increasing it for the Giants. A trade by the waiver deadline would go through uninterrupted since no other GM is going to touch Zito’s contract with a ten-foot pole. The Giants would not throw in any cash, making Zito’s total value around $49 million including his prorated remaining salary for 2011 (assuming Zito comes off the DL in time for a trade/physical).
Should a San Jose ballpark open in 2015, the Giants’ claim of damages related to the move amounts to $60 million to cover the final three years of debt service on AT&T Park (2015-17). $49 million is clearly short of $60 million, but there’s also a matter of opportunity cost as well. How much is that extra $19-20 million for 2012-13 worth to the Giants? In a way it’s worth twice as much since the money would be freed up to get another player that they wouldn’t be able to get if they were hamstrung by Zito’s contract.
From a business of baseball standpoint, it would also be the cleanest way to resolve the T-rights debate since it wouldn’t require any action by Bud Selig other than the approval of the trade by the league office and then the procedural vote during the winter meetings. It would be a clean, above-board deal, done conveniently to coincide with rewritten definitions of T-rights in the next ML Constitution (however they’re written). There’d be no need to redirect the A’s revenue sharing check or other financial gymnastics. Politically, it would fit Selig’s M.O. of waiting around until a solution presented itself. And while the A’s payroll flexibility would be less, at least they’d be getting back a fan favorite during a rebuilding era.
Brian Sabean got a taste of glory last November, along with a hefty contract extension. It might be difficult to convince Bill Neukom to go along with the idea, but Neukom’s also taking a chance on not getting anything at all when the time comes. Competitiveness now over anticompetitive business practices? I wouldn’t put it past Neukom to go with the latter. I’d like to think that, in the end, he’s a sensible man. Strange how the tables have turned, eh?