Barry Zito Returns to Oakland, But What Will His Role Be?

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Last night the Oakland Athletics signed Barry Zito to a minor league contract and the fans seem to be pretty pleased. On the one hand they get Zito back, and the on the other it’s a minor league deal. Win-win! The addition of Zito to the rotation mix gives Oakland eleven potential starters, which seems like an absurd amount of depth in the rotation. Guess we won’t be trading Addison Russell this July! Too soon?

Just hours before Zito signed with Oakland, former A’s first baseman Jason Giambi (the Giambi that remembers to slide) announced his retirement. The deal, reported by Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle, is worth $1M if he makes the A’s roster, and he could also earn another $175K in performance bonuses. I’m going to go out on a limb and saying that the A’s will get more out of him for this amount than the Giants did last year after declining his option and paying the $7M buyout.

At the very least Barry Zito will presumably be a great influence on the younger pitchers this spring, which could be worth the money by itself.

Slusser also reports that Zito has been working out with Ron Wolforth for the past four months. Wolforth is the same trainer that turned around Scott Kazmir‘s career, so there is some hope to be had with Zito as the 2015 season approaches.

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Assuming that Zito makes the team out of camp (which should not be assumed, but for the purposes of defining his role it helps) he would likely slot into the fourth slot in the rotation behind Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir and Jesse Hahn. An argument could be made that having Zito in the third slot would be beneficial due to his experience, but keeping Hahn there breaks up the lefties.

As a member of the Giants, Zito went 63-80 with a 4.62 ERA and pitched a total of three complete games. The ERA he had in the offensively weaker National League shouldn’t provide much hope, especially considering that his ERA with Oakland had been a 3.55. However, if you’re into FIP, the gap isn’t quite as large. With the A’s his FIP was a 4.17, while with San Francisco he held a 4.61 FIP. Keep in mind that he won the Cy Young in 2002 and had three All-Star appearances with Oakland. He had no accolades in his time with the Giants, which makes that difference seem even smaller.

There is an outside chance that Zito’s path in 2015 could be similar to that of Jesse Chavez last year; starting in the rotation and then being replaced later. The big worry, outside of his performance in recent years, is how his arm will hold up to the test of a full season after taking 2014 off. This could be another time where Billy Beane is proactive and trades Zito before the decline starts, if he sees one coming.

If Zito does stick around, he could be a big piece for any potential playoff run that Oakland hopes to make. We can all remember his 8-inning performance in the 2006 ALDS against Minnesota, where he allowed four hits and just one run. Hopefully you remember it, because that’s the only ray of sunshine in an otherwise horrible postseason streak for Oakland. With S.F., Zito also pitched fairly well in the 2012 playoffs, with his crowning achievement being a 7 2/3 inning gem he pitched against St. Louis, allowing six hits and no runs.

At this point, everything is speculation regarding Barry Zito, but we can all agree that we hope he will be successful in his return to the green and gold.

Next: A's 3 Under-the-Radar Additions This Offseason

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