The free agency period is finally upon us. Eligible players must file by the November 11 deadline, and can start talking contract terms with all teams the following day. Prior to November 12, players can only negotiate and sign with their present team. So, for about 200 players, and all 30 teams, things will get interesting next Sunday.
For the most part, the biggest transactions won't take place in the first couple of weeks of the signing period. First come the General managers' meetings in Naples, Florida, from November 13-17, where players and their agents will be feeling out the market, and where clubs will try to determine which players they can afford. Some low to mid-level free agents may sign early on, but the big deals won’t happen until after the Baseball Winter Meetings, which take will take place in Orlando, from December 4-7 .
One of the most sought after free agents this year will be Oakland pitcher Barry Zito.
Zito and his agent, Scott Boras, will be seeking a contract valued at $15 million-$16 million per year. Will the Sox be a player in the negotiations? It's certainly a huge expense for a guy who hasn't pitched very well at Fenway (2-2, 4.65 ERA) and has been dreadful against the Yankees (3-9, 5.20 ERA).
This season, Zito went 16-10, with a 3.83 ERA, 151 strike outs, 99 walks, and just 211 hits in 221 innings. And though the lefty has never had a losing season, he's won 20 games just once in career. That was in 2002, the year he won the Cy Young award, when he went 23-5 with a 2.75 ERA. In his seven-year career, Zito is an impressive 102-63 with a 3.55 ERA.
Known for his looping curve ball, Zito is not a power pitcher, and has struck out at least 200 batters in only one season -- 2001. But that may have served him well. Perhaps most impressively, Zito has never spent time on the DL. Aside from his rookie season in 2000, he's averaged 223 innings and 35 starts per year. That's dependability, and all else aside, it's what his next employer will be paying for. Another positive factor; only once in his career has Zito given up more hits than innings pitched. That's truly impressive.
The Sox have four rotation spots already pencilled in for next season, (Schilling, Beckett, Papelbon, and Wakefield) leaving one glaring opening. Schilling and Wakefield will be 40 and 41, respectively, next season, Beckett failed to impress in his inaugural AL campaign, Papelbon was sidelined with shoulder woes at the end of the year, and the Sox revealed themselves to be desperately thin on pitching in 2006. The Sox need a resilient, reliable, frontline pitcher, and Zito is the best, most proven, available (Daisuke Matsuzaka is not proven in the majors).
Yes, the bidding will be costly, but there aren't a lot of options this year and Zito could be just what the Red Sox need to regain competitive advantage in the American League next year, and beyond. A lot of money was saved when the Sox chose not to retain their own free agents over the past couple of years -- Pedro, Lowe, and Damon, for instance. Zito has proven himself dependable and consistent, and therefore worthy of the four or five year deal he'll be seeking. The Sox have the money to afford him and, considering the market for his services, not to mention their own needs, he's worth it. At the youthful age of 28, Zito should be seen as an investment in the future.
Copyright © 2006 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.