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Originally published Wednesday, December 20, 2006 at 12:00 AM

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Mariners meet with Zito in California

The Mariners are serious enough about pursuing free-agent pitcher Barry Zito that club officials met with Zito and his agent, Scott Boras...

Seattle Times staff reporter

The Mariners are serious enough about pursuing free-agent pitcher Barry Zito that club officials met with Zito and his agent, Scott Boras, in Southern California on Monday, The Seattle Times has learned.

General manager Bill Bavasi and manager Mike Hargrove were among the Mariners' contingent, industry sources confirmed. The session was reportedly more of a "get-acquainted session" than a negotiating forum.

No Seattle official would comment on the Zito meeting, but it is believed the club is willing to make a major financial commitment that would take them beyond their 2007 payroll projection to land the 28-year-old left-hander.

Zito has a 102-63 career record and 3.55 earned-run average in six-plus seasons with the Oakland Athletics. In 2006, he was 16-10 with a 3.83 ERA in helping the A's to the American League West title.

The Mariners are said to recognize that they are a longshot for the former Cy Young award winner. But they reportedly see the chance for a bold move that would both solidify their rotation and excite their fan base after three straight last-place finishes.

Their competition appears to come from four teams, including two others from the AL West — the Los Angeles Angels and the Texas Rangers. The A's have given no indication they will make a serious bid to retain Zito, who earned $8.5 million last season.

The New York Mets followed the Mariners to Los Angeles to meet with Zito and Boras on Tuesday. Their contingent consisted of GM Omar Minaya, chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon and front-office executives Tony Bernazard and John Ricco.

Zito made a trip to Dallas to meet with Rangers owner Tom Hicks in early December. Hicks has a long history of working out mega-deals for Boras clients, including Alex Rodriguez (10 years, $252 million in 2001), Chan Ho Park (five years, $65 million in 2002) and, most recently, Kevin Millwood (five years, $60 million in 2006).

Angels GM Bill Stoneman told the Los Angeles Times last weekend that "right now, we're not in aggressive pursuit of a free agent." But owner Arte Moreno promised fans at the end of last season the team would make bold moves, and so far their only major addition is center fielder Gary Matthews Jr. (five years, $50 million).

The other team that is likely to get involved in the Zito bidding is the San Francisco Giants. Until he moved to the East Bay this past season, Zito lived in San Francisco throughout his Oakland career.

Like the Mariners, the Giants have received largely unfavorable reaction from their fans over their winter moves.

Boras will almost certainly seek a six- or seven-year contract for Zito in excess of $100 million. Only two pitchers in baseball history have signed nine-figure deals: Mike Hampton in 2001 (eight years, $121 million by the Colorado Rockies) and Kevin Brown in 1999 (seven years, $105 million by the Dodgers).


There is some sentiment among baseball analysts that Zito is not worth such an investment. Former Toronto Blue Jays executive Keith Law wrote on "Zito is a third or fourth starter with a reputation of a one or a two. In fact, over the last three years, he's struggled badly when facing the two premier offenses in the AL, posting a 6.59 ERA against Boston and the Yankees while walking 47 men and allowing 18 homers in 83-1/3 innings."

However, Zito possesses a 41-16 record against the AL West and has shown remarkable durability, never missing a start in his career.

Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or

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