Barry Zito Signs Minor League Contract With Oakland Athletics

In what could turn out to be the feel-good reunion of the season, left-handed pitcher Barry Zito agreed to a minor league contract with the Oakland Athletics, per Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle.

The contract includes an invitation to big league spring training and could be worth $1 million with an extra $175,000 worth of incentives should he make the team, as noted by Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com

The transaction reunites the 36-year-old Zito with the club he experienced his greatest success with in the big leagues. From 2000 to 2007, Zito anchored the Athletics rotation with the likes of Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson.

Zito’s best season came in 2002 when he posted a remarkable 23-5 record to go along with a sparkling 2.35 ERA in 229.1 innings pitched. The effort earned the Las Vegas native the American League Cy Young award honors that season. In the years after that award winning season, Zito continued to soak up innings as he never failed to eclipse the 200 innings mark for the rest of his stint in Oakland.

After 2006, Zito switched bays and left the Athletics to sign a seven-year, $128 million contract with the San Francisco Giants. Despite being able to pitch a decent amount of innings with the Giants, Zito’s time in San Francisco was ultimately mired in frustration and disappointment.

Over the life of that seven-year deal, Zito pitched to an accumulated record of 63-80 with a 4.80 ERA in 1,139.1 career innings for the Giants. A far cry from the production that former three-time All-Star provided to the Athletics during his seven years in Oakland.

Having sat out the 2014 season, Zito will be looking to rebound back to the form that made him one of the top pitchers in the game at the start of the previous decade. Pitching instructor Ron Wolforth worked with Zito this off season and believes that the left-hander can bounce back in a huge way, as he told John Hickey of the San Jose Mercury News.

“I would not be surprised at all if he made the A’s rotation. In my opinion, the only thing holding other teams back from signing him is that they were waiting on his velocity.”

Always known as a finesse pitcher rather than a hard-thrower, Zito reportedly regained some of his diminished velocity. Much like another client of Wolforth, fellow Athletics left-hander Scott Kazmir, Zito is learning how to be an effective pitcher while gradually building up his velocity. Kazmir ended up losing much of his velocity after a trade to the Los Angeles Angels in 2009. With the help of Wolforth, he regained his dominant stuff and was an All-Star in 2014.

With his latest project, Wolforth could be on the verge of a breakthrough. The process of helping Zito included fixing mechanical issues while learning to better harness his trademark curveball. With that pitch, Zito used to have batters looking foolish. And now, he’s apparently bettered that pitch and will be make a strong case to be in the Athletics rotation come opening day.

“When you see him throw, you will notice a definite difference. The old hook he had where he went behind his back during the windup, that’s gone. We didn’t set out to eliminate the hook, but it’s a process of taking links out of his personal bicycle chain to make him more efficient as a pitcher.

Injuries to A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker partnered with the departures of Jeff Samardzija and Jon Lester, Zito will likely get every opportunity to make the big league team out of spring training. If he shows he can still pitch effectively.

[Image by Denis Poroy/Getty Images]