On the same day one of the greatest hitters in Oakland A's history announced his retirement, another important member of A's franchise lore returned to the game -- and the organization -- after a year away from baseball. On Monday night, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Barry Zito had agreed to terms with the A's on a minor-league deal with an invitation to big league camp. According to Slusser, Zito has been working out with the same Houston-based trainer that helped current A's left-hander Scott Kazmir return to dominance.
Zito was the A's first-round pick (ninth overall) in 1999. He raced through the A's minor league system and made his major-league debut a little more than a year after being drafted. In just a half season with the A's in 2000, Zito helped Oakland win the AL West by going 7-4 with a 2.72 ERA in 14 starts. He then out-dueled Roger Clemens to earn a win in the American League Division Series. He joined with Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder to form the A's famed "Big Three" at the top of their rotation.
In 2001, Zito would win 17 games during the regular season. He was the losing pitcher in the epic Game Three of that year's ALDS that the A's lost, 1-0. That was the game where Jeremy Giambi was thrown out at the plate on the Derek Jeter "flip" play.
The next season was a magical one for Zito and the A's. Zito won the AL Cy Young award after going 23-5 with a 2.75 ERA. He struck-out 182 and was part of the A's rotation that helped Oakland win an MLB-record 20-straight games.
Zito's numbers dipped in 2003 through 2005, but he rebounded in 2006 to win 16 games. Zito was the A's number one starter that season, when they captured their first AL West title since 2003. Zito then beat the seemingly unbeatable Johan Santana in Game One of the ALDS that season, helping to get the A's their only post-season series win since 1990.
After the 2006 season, Zito left the A's on a free agent contract with the San Francisco Giants. At the time he left Oakland, Zito was 102-63 with a 3.55 ERA. He also had a reputation for being a workhorse, having made at least 34 starts in six straight seasons going into the 2007 campaign.
Zito would continue to be durable for the Giants in 2007 and 2008, but his velocity was way down and his numbers fell-off conisderably. Zito posted his first losing season in 2007 and went 10-17 with a 5.15 ERA in 2008. By 2010, Zito was at the back of the Giants' rotation, and he was left off of the San Francisco post-season roster when the Giants won their first World Series in San Francisco.
In 2011, Zito made only 13 appearances and he had a 5.87 ERA. He looked to be at the end of his career in 2012, but he managed to put together a decent season. In 32 starts, he had a 15-8 record and a 4.15 ERA. Zito struggled in the NLDS that season, but he made two outstanding starts in the NLCS and the World Series to help the Giants win another title.
Zito's struggles returned in 2013. He went 5-11 with a 5.74 ERA in the final year of his contract. In 133.1 innings, Zito struck-out 86 and walked 54. At the end of the season, Zito decided to take a year away from the game to see if he had the passion to continue pitching. According to Slusser, Zito welcomed his first child into the world in 2014 and has been working out with Houston-based trainer Ron Wolforth.
The A's will have plenty of competition for spots on their pitching staff this spring. Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir are the only two pitchers guaranteed (health-permitting) spots in the rotation. Jesse Chavez, Drew Pomeranz, Jesse Hahn, Sean Nolin, Chris Bassitt, Kendall Graveman, Arnold Leon and Brad Mills will all be competing for those final three spots in the starting rotation. Zito could also factor in the A's bullpen competition, although he doesn't have a lot of career experience as a reliever.
Zito is 36 and will be the oldest player in A's camp.