29 November 2005

Gwen Knapp: Trade Zito for San Jose?

Today's column by the Chronicle's Gwen Knapp posits an unusual trade idea: Barry Zito to the Giants for the territorial rights to San Jose. There would be numerous issues associated with such a deal, but let's put them aside for a second.

The current consensus is that although A's GM Billy Beane signed free agent Esteban Loaiza because "you can never have enough pitching," Beane made the move in part to set up the eventual departure of Zito, who will be a free agent after the 2006 season (and will command upwards of $11 million per year in salary). The presumption is that Zito would be traded for a right-handed slugger, though the player would likely be a young hitter who could be signed cheaply for several years, not a superstar like Manny Ramirez. Targets frequently mentioned include emerging Tampa Bay star (and Bay Area native) Johnny Gomes, or the Arizona Diamondbacks' Conor Jackson (who attended Cal).

Replace the righty slugger with territorial rights? Is that even possible?

Zito, of course, is the AL's 2002 Cy Young award winner who had a somewhat underwhelming 2004 but bounced back to have a solid 2005 season, plagued only by terrible run support. A sign of growth has been his enhanced repertoire, which now includes a slider to go with his 12-to-6 curveball (er, 11-to-5) and well-disguised changeup. Durability has never been a question for Zito as it has with former aces (Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson) or current studs (Rich Harden, Joe Blanton). Zito's fastball has never topped 90 mph, and it can usually be tracked at 88-89 mph. That said, Zito is still considered among the top three among AL lefties, alongside the Twins' Johan Santana and the White Sox' Mark Buerhle.

However, Zito is an upcoming free agent. There are precedents that show Beane's tendency to either move such a player (last year's Mulder and Hudson trades) or keep him, only to let him go to free agency (Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada, Johnny Damon). What can be certain is that if a trade of Zito happens, it probably won't go down during the season since Beane won't get maximum value.

But is Zito worth the rights to the South Bay? Even if the Giants were to entertain the notion of such a trade? Zito's value can be mapped out pretty well over the next several years. Territorial rights are much more difficult to quantify, as Peter Magowan has been reluctant to do. Should Zito be traded for the South Bay, the transaction would simply be a reversal of Wally Haas' conveyance of the territory to the Giants 15 years ago. No money changed hands then, and no money would probably change hands this time on account of Zito's relatively low salary. The Giants would still need to extend Zito for at least 5-6 years, so that's money out of pocket, but at least it's a bona fide ace locked up for several years in a place well-suited to Zito's hook. With the late season emergence of Matt Cain and Noah Lowry (and to a lesser extent Brad Hennessey), the Giants should have a decent rotation in shape even with the eventual departure of Jason Schmidt.

The problem for the A's here is that the Giants could simply wait until Zito became a free agent in 2006, in which case the A's would get little more than a couple of first-round picks for Zito as compensation. But considering the Giants' predicament, where the window for which Barry Bonds can continue his run for a WS and the career HR crown is coming to a close, the Giants may need to strike while the iron is hot. There's also the issue of what would happen to the A's in the short term. The only pitcher not considered a serious health risk is Danny Haren. And it doesn't solve the A's search for a righty slugger. The downsides:
  • Depending on health, the A's rotation will be worse in 2006 than in 2004 and 2005.
  • Trading for the South Bay will be a clear indicator that the A's intend to leave Oakland for San Jose. That could translate into backlash and lower attendance in the near term.
  • While Zito would provide the Giants a marquee attraction, it still doesn't answer how much the South Bay means monetarily to the Giants, who could certainly lose a number of casual fans to a San Jose-based team.
Then there's also the part MLB, the commish, and the owners play in this kind of deal. Since all deals have to be approved by the commish's office, the gating mechanism is already in place. But it would create an unusual precedent - though one that's unlikely to be revisited. Would the owners feel that such a trade carries a general threat to the concept of territorial rights, as if they were simply one more negotiating tool? Perhaps. At this point, I'd consider this kind of trade an extremely remote possibility, but considering the fact that Beane's role as a part-owner blurs the line between the business side and the baseball side, I wouldn't dismiss it entirely.


jrbh said...

I thought she was kidding, and I still assume that she is. Or she's really dumb.

The actual territorial rights to San Jose are worth vastly more than Zito -- $100 million strikes me as a reasonable figure -- and it would be a "we're out of Oakland" gesture by the A's that would destroy attendance for the two or three years (at least) it would take to get a new ballpark built in San Jose.

From the Giant point of view, the only way it makes sense is if they think the A's couldn't actually get it together to build a ballpark down there -- they'd essentially be getting Zito for free. But it'd be a huge gamble; with many of the South Bay Giants fans going to games in San Jose instead of making the trek to PacBellSBCATT Park, and a $20M mortgage payment, it would have the potential to strap the Giants for cash for a decade or more, and put them in the Kansas City/Milwaukee class.

Georob said...

Rhamesis, don't you recognize the 600 pound tongue inside Gwen Knapp's cheek? It's off season, and these writers need something to say other than "The A's got another pitcher so I guess Zito's gone!"

Unless there's an unspoken understanding between Wolff, Selig, and the Giants already in place; San Jose in my opinion will only be considered once all other options(including contraction) have been exhausted.

I'm not saying it can't happen, but this soap opera will play more than a few rounds before San Jose rides in on her white horse.

Marine Layer said...

Again I have to ask, "Where do these figures come from?" They're all arbitrary. Projections based on lost season ticket holders or casual fans are often based on faulty assumptions. Magowan threw out $60 million before the dot-com bust. So now it's increased as a result?

The Giants have the ballpark expenses deduction in the revenue-sharing agreement to help them at all times, and there's some thought that they've also been paying off the debt early during the initial couple of years. In fact, the Giants have said that after the fifth or sixth year, they could comfortably bring in only 34-35,000 and not run into financial trouble.

Marine Layer said...

I sensed it, and that's a reason why I said it was extremely remote. But I wouldn't dismiss it entirely. With MLB, just about anything is possible, no matter how seemingly simple or convoluted.

tony d. said...

Here's a good Zito to the Giants for the rights to San Jose, AND PLAY AT AT&T PARK while a San Jose ballpark is being built (the A's could pay the Giants rent). The Giants get a left handed ace, rent money from the A's, the A's get San Jose and play in a real ballpark sooner. By the way jrbh, hard core Giants fans in the South Bay aren't going to give up their team because one exists in the hometown...they may attend A's games when the Giants are on the road, kind of like some of them do right now. Doesn't everyone think it's great to have both American and National League baseball in the Bay Area?

murf said...

Tony D, saw your letter to the editor in yesterday's Merc...

I have to agree with you on SB Giants' fans loyalty, being one myself. But for our kids' generation, it's hard to imagine them not becoming A's fans if the team were to relocate to the SB.

In the same breath, it's worth acknowledging that the recipricol would happen in the EB.

peanut gallery said...

The timing makes this impossible. Maybe (and that's a big maybe) if this situation was presenting itself in Nov/Dec 2006, it could be possible. But Wolfe has committed to working solely with Oakland at least until opening day.

That said, I would really like to see the A's make the offer anyways. It would give them some understanding of how valuable those rights really are to the Giants. If they went for this, I'd say they have very little value. Almost none relative to the stink they make about it.

tony d. said...

Hey Murf,
Yeah, that was me in the Merc yesterday. It looks like San Jose might get the Earthquakes at Diridon "further" south, according to todays paper. That would be pretty awesome to have both a MLB ballpark and MLS stadium down at Diridon/Arena. Sorry for getting off the subject R.M.

Anonymous said...

One word for that article: Ridiculous.

jrbh said...

I got the $100M figure based on what the Orioles are getting for "allowing" the Nats to play in DC, along with with Magowan's said in the past, adjusted for inflation. It's also about five years of Giants mortgage payments, which seems to me like it would be an important psychological point to Giants management.

It's a guess. An educated guess, though.

Marine Layer said...

Let's keep in mind that the O's are getting no cash from the Nats move. They're getting a guarantee on franchise value and a majority share of MASN, the new regional sports cable network. They are not getting guaranteed yearly revenue as Angelos wanted. The O's also had to sink money into startup costs for the network and legal bills to fight off Comcast, so it's not as if they didn't invest. There's an enormous difference between cash and equity, as we homeowners in the Bay Area know. I seriously doubt cash would exchange hands if territorial rights were sold or traded. It's just not the way things are done in MLB. If the exchange took place, Magowan will get something that preserves and enhances franchise value, and maybe some further revenue sharing protection.