Zito passes physical, making $126 million deal official

SAN FRANCISCO -- True to form, Barry Zito had a little fun when quizzed about how he might alter his style now that he has the richest contract for a pitcher in baseball history.

"I'm just thinking of canning the curveball. Other than that, nothing major," Zito joked Friday, when his $126 million, seven-year contract with the San Francisco Giants became official.

The former AL Cy Young Award winner passed his physical Friday, the last step in the process for the star left-hander to make the move across San Francisco Bay to the Giants. He is scheduled to be formally introduced at the team's waterfront ballpark Wednesday.

He's keeping his nasty curveball, along with the No. 75 he's been wearing.

"I'd say this is the most important signing we've had since we first signed Barry Bonds back in late 1992," owner Peter Magowan said Friday. "It means that much to the franchise and the future of the franchise. We don't make this kind of deal every year or every five years. It takes a very special player."

A player the Giants are convinced will stay healthy -- he has never missed a start -- lead their young pitching staff and help turn around a team that has missed the playoffs the past three seasons. The Giants are serious about winning a World Series after falling six outs short of the title in 2002.

That's the same year Zito won 23 games for the Oakland Athletics on his way to the Cy Young Award.

While Zito had prepared himself for a potential move out of the Bay Area and California, he had a good feeling after his first meeting with San Francisco. He appreciated the honesty he sensed from the Giants' top brass when they met for a long dinner after Thanksgiving in Beverly Hills.

"I know I made the right decision for how it sits in my gut here," Zito said. "There's really no adjustment period. ... I think it was primarily the honesty and my instincts were telling me I was getting some standup guys who were being up front. There weren't a lot of games being played, no mind games. This is my first run at this."

The fact he didn't have to travel far in free agency was attractive, too -- just across the Bay Bridge to the city where he lived for most of his first seven big league seasons with the A's.

Zito said that if he'd been weighing identical offers from the Giants, New York Mets, Texas and Seattle, he still likely would have chosen San Francisco based primarily on his comfort level with the area. The Mets, thought for some time to be the leader in the chase for Zito, wouldn't budge on a five-year offer.

Zito has some serious job security.

"It's a lot of years," he said. "I'm just so thankful that there's such a commitment there -- thankful they would go out on a limb and trust my work ethic. I guarantee I'll do all the things to stay healthy. That kind of commitment is not something that a lot of people get."

His deal includes an $18 million option for 2014 with a $7 million buyout that could increase the value of his deal to $137 million. The option would become guaranteed if Zito pitches 200 innings in 2013, 400 combined over 2012 and 2013 or 600 combined from 2011-13. He also has a full no-trade clause.

The contract ties for the sixth largest overall, matching the $126 million, seven-year extension agreed to this month by Toronto and center fielder Vernon Wells. The Giants were looking for someone to fill the void left when ace Jason Schmidt departed earlier this month for the rival Los Angeles Dodgers.

"This was a definite want and need on the part of our ballclub," general manager Brian Sabean said. "On a whole, everybody in the organization, including the players, are beside themselves for what this means for the organization."

Zito is determined to become a better hitter considering his at-bats will be far greater in the National League. He has one hit in 29 career at-bats and plans to take any advice he can from Bonds, who agreed to a $16 million, one-year contract to return to the Giants for a 15th season.

The 42-year-old Bonds is 22 home runs from passing home run king Hank Aaron's all-time record of 755. Zito expects the two Barrys to co-exist nicely.

"To play with Barry Bonds is something I think every guy would want to do," said Zito, flattered to be talked about in the same breath as the seven-time NL MVP. "It gave me chills actually. It's great to be mentioned in the same sentence as Barry Bonds. I used to watch Barry growing up."

Zito insists all the money won't affect him and he will remain focused on his job: getting batters out and staying ready every fifth day.

He said that "when you try to become some superhuman cartoon character ... that's when things go wrong."

The 28-year-old Zito, a three-time All-Star, was a 16-game winner in 2006 and helped the A's win the AL West and reach their first AL championship series since 1992. Oakland GM Billy Beane knew he had little chance at re-signing Zito, who will lead a rotation also featuring Matt Cain, Noah Lowry and Matt Morris. The No. 5 spot is still to be determined.

"I think it's a great addition," Morris said. "Barry is an upper-echelon pitcher who is going to go out every fifth day. He's very reliable and durable and gives you a chance to win every time out. It's a ton of money, but that's what they're paying. I think it's great."