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Barry Zito: Worst free agent signing ever?

Chris Ruddick, MLB Editor

Chris Ruddick Logo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - With all due respect to Albert Belle, Bobby Bonilla and Mike Hampton, history may one day tell us that the seven-year, $126 million contract to which the San Francisco Giants signed left-hander Barry Zito before last season will go down as the worst free agent signing ever.

I know we are only in year two of the deal, and he still has plenty of time to turn things around, but he hasn't exactly shown at any point since the contract was signed that things are going to get better.

The news this past week that the Giants plan on skipping him in the rotation and using him as a long reliever doesn't exactly help his cause any either.

So, is Zito just the latest in a long line of pitchers who signed big deals and failed, joining Hampton ($121 million, eight years), Kevin Brown ($105 million, seven years), Carl Pavano ($40 million, four years), Denny Neagle ($51.5 million, five years), and Chan Ho Park ($65 million, five years)?

Or, can he somehow regain the form that allowed him to win 23 games for the Oakland A's in 2003?

By the way, no matter how this Zito thing eventually plays out, all general managers should take note: Don't give long-term deals to pitchers, especially ones that aren't power pitchers. In the Giants' defense, though, there were other teams that were willing to pony up the years and over $100 million for his services too. They just happened to be the team he chose.

Zito's fall from grace has been rather astonishing. A Cy Young Award winner in 2002, Zito was just 11-13 last year with the Giants with a 4.53 earned run average. This season he has been even worse, losing all six of his starts, while pitching to a ridiculous 7.53 ERA.

He has always been a slow starter, as evidenced by his 13-23 lifetime mark through the first month of the season, but based on his performance last year and his diminished velocity this spring, Zito's leash was not that long.

San Francisco pitching coach Dave Righetti now has a reclamation project on his hands. He has already stated that he wants Zito to throw his two-seam sinking fastball more.

If you want to look at the silver lining in all of this it is that Righetti has been through this before. He went through a similar situation with Shawn Estes back in 2000, when the lefty was dealing with shoulder problems that caused a decrease in his velocity. Righetti successfully persuaded Estes to utilize his two-seamer more and he wound up leading the National League by inducing 40 double-play grounders, en route to a 15-win season.

Zito is too good to be this bad. You have to think his days as an $18 million- a-year long reliever are not going to last long. The next time the Giants need a fifth starter is May 10. My bet is he is on the hill that day.

How long he stays there is anyone's guess.

MANAGERS ON THE HOT SEAT

We now have a full month of the MLB season under our belts, and as expected some teams are playing below expectations, which of course leads to speculation that a few managers' jobs could be in trouble.

Last year we had three managers fired in-season - Pete Mackanin of the Reds, Sam Perlozzo of the Orioles, and Phil Garner of the Astros. This year, I think two changes could be coming at any moment, while another is on the cusp of going down if things don't pick up.

Below we take a look at a trio of managers that could be out of a job if things don't change in a hurry:

JOHN GIBBONS (Toronto Blue Jays) - This team should be an awful lot better than it is. For the past three seasons people were expecting the Blue Jays to take the next step, but for whatever reason it just hasn't happened. The whole Frank Thomas fiasco earlier in the season didn't help Gibbons' case any either. Not helping matters is that there are a great deal of players that have problems with Gibbons. Ted Lilly had a run-in with him, as did Shea Hillenbrand, then there was the Thomas flare-up. I know general manager J.P. Ricciardi loves him, but if things don't pick up north of the border I would be shocked if Gibbons makes it to the All-Star break.

RON WASHINGTON (Texas Rangers) - This isn't even speculation. Ron Washington's job is in serious jeopardy. The Rangers brain trust met last week and decided that Washington was safe for now, but a couple more seven-game losing streaks and Nolan Ryan's first big move as team president could be at Washington's expense. By all accounts Washington is a great guy, which is probably the only reason he is still managing, but that gets you only so far. Injuries have ravaged his pitching staff and his lineup just isn't that good. Unfortunately, you can't fire the whole team. The manager is the one that takes the fall.

WILLIE RANDOLPH (NY Mets) - Willie is probably a little safer than the other two, but if there was one team that could not afford to get off to a bad start this season, it was the New York Mets. There are also some rumblings that Randolph and general manager Omar Minaya don't necessarily see eye-to-eye. Chances are, though, barring a complete collapse, Randolph will be given the year. I do know this, however, if things don't pick up soon in Flushing, and by chance the Washington Nationals decided at some point to fire Manny Acta, he would replace Randolph in a New York minute.

FANTASY BASEBALL PICKUP OF THE WEEK

For all of you fantasy people out there, the guy to get this week is Arizona right-hander Max Scherzer, the team's first-round pick in 2006. Scherzer displayed his electric stuff in his major league debut on Tuesday against Houston, as he threw 4 1/3 perfect innings with seven strikeouts.

He should be on the waiver wire. Get him now while you can. My guess is that he will probably stay in the pen for a while, possibly being the D'Backs' version of Joba Chamberlain, but with a 44-year-old Randy Johnson ready to go down with an injury at any time, his insertion into the rotation could come sooner rather than later.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Chris Ruddick at cruddick@sportsnetwork.com.

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