Barry Zito has known for months he would be leaving the Giants after seven up-and-down years in San Francisco.
The sides formally parted ways Saturday, when the Giants declined to exercise Zito's $18 million contract option for next season and instead owe the left-hander a $7 million buyout.
Also Saturday, San Francisco declined its $3 million mutual option for outfielder Andres Torres and must pay him a $500,000 buyout. The biggest decision still facing general manager Brian Sabean and assistant GM Bobby Evans is due by Monday: Whether to exercise right-hander Ryan Vogelsong's $6.5 million club option that includes a $300,000 buyout.
Because the 35-year-old Zito realized this moment was coming, he recently took out a full-page newspaper ad to thank the fans for standing by him through a tough tenure on this side of San Francisco Bay. The 2002 AL Cy Young Award winner across the water for the Oakland Athletics, Zito just completed a $126 million, seven-year contract with the Giants.
Zito pitched Game 5 of the NL championship series at St. Louis last year with his team facing elimination as the Giants rallied to win the series in seven games, then won Game 1 in a surprising World Series sweep of the Tigers — after he was left off the postseason roster for all three rounds in 2010.
Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy each has credited Zito for his work to find his rhythm again despite the struggles, not to mention his class during difficult situations on and off the field. Both of his parents died in recent years, including his father, Joe, this past season.
“On the field and off the field, a lot of things happened in these years,” Zito said. “I got married and became a Christian, lost both my parents. Just so much. And on the field, obviously had some lows there for a while and also this year, and then the World Series in 2012 for me was such an incredible experience. I'm so grateful I got to experience that and be a part of it and help bring it home for San Francisco.
The way it worked, Zito was replaced in his final start and didn't get a curtain call or chance to tip his cap to the crowd at AT&T Park on Sept. 25.
“There's not a lot of chance for closure, I think, in sports,” he said. “Guys sign contracts, they come to cities, they're kind of like the city's own. And there's never really goodbyes. But that's National League baseball. You've got to pinch hit.”
Zito had a 63-80 record with a 4.62 ERA in 197 starts and 208 appearances for the Giants. His buyout is payable in installments with 1 percent interest each Jan. 15 from 2014 through 2020.
“There's lots of stuff that he could complain about. I've never heard him say a negative word about anything,” fellow lefty starter Madison Bumgarner said. “He's a lot tougher than people realize. He's a gentleman in the game and he's a competitor. He's truly a good teammate, one of the best teammates I've had in my short career so far. It would definitely be hard to top him.”
Zito and Torres, another member of the 2010 World Series team, now become free agents. Torres, 35, batted .250 with two homers and 21 RBIs in 103 games this past season.
Zito has said he still wants to pitch next season somewhere.
“Just going to go home this offseason, take a few weeks off and see what my heart tells me,” he said. “My body's still healthy and my mind's fairly healthy. It's been injured here and there along the way, but I think I can manage.”