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Giants sign pitcher Zito to 7-year, $126-million deal
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    NEW YORK — Barry Zito and the San Francisco Giants reached a preliminary agreement on the largest contract for a pitcher in baseball history, a $126 million, seven-year deal.
    While there was no immediate confirmation from the Giants, details of the contract were provided Thursday to The Associated Press by two persons familiar with the negotiations who spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal wasn’t announced by the team.
    Zito’s agreement, reached late Wednesday night, includes an $18 million option for 2014 with a $7 million buyout that could increase the value 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.
    Zito is scheduled to have a physical Friday, and the Giants planned to announce their agreement with the three-time All-Star later in the day. His decision to sign with the Giants first was reported on
    Zito’s deal 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, who have missed the playoffs the past three seasons, were looking for someone to fill the void left when ace Jason Schmidt departed earlier this month for the rival Los Angeles Dodgers.
    ‘‘A lot of money,’’ Zito’s former Oakland teammate Mark Ellis said. ‘‘I was shocked. That’s great for him. That’s a good place for him. There couldn’t be a better fit I don’t think. Obviously we wanted him in Oakland.’’
    Giants general manager Brian Sabean had said the team had money to spend for a top pitcher, thanks in part to slugger Barry Bonds agreeing to defer some of the money from his new $16 million, one-year contract. Sabean never said how much the Giants had available.
    Previously, the largest contract for a pitcher was Mike Hampton’s $121 million, eight-year deal with the Colorado Rockies before the 2001 season.
    Texas, Seattle and the New York Mets also pursued Zito, the top available pitcher on the free-agent market. The 28-year-old left-hander spent the last seven seasons across San Francisco Bay pitching with the Athletics, and staying in the area appeared to be a factor in his decision.
    ‘‘We gave it our best shot,’’ Rangers owner Tom Hicks said in an e-mail to the AP. ‘‘He’s a great pitcher and a fine young man. I wish him well and am glad he’s out of the AL West.’’
    Zito has been among the most durable pitchers in the majors, making 34 or more starts and throwing 210 or more innings in six straight seasons. He has never missed a start.
    He was 16-10 with a 3.83 ERA last season and has a 102-63 career record with a 3.55 ERA. Zito won the 2002 AL Cy Young Award after going 23-5.
    ‘‘He’s so young still and he’s so durable,’’ Ellis said. ‘‘If I was a team going to give money to someone, it would be to him. I don’t see anything wrong with Barry getting that much. Give money to someone who’s going to go out there every fifth day.’’
    Zito will lead a rotation also featuring Matt Cain, coming off an impressive rookie season, lefty Noah Lowry and Matt Morris. The fifth spot in the rotation is still to be determined, with several candidates in the mix.
    ‘‘It takes a lot of pressure off two people, which I think is very important,’’ Giants first baseman and outfielder Mark Sweeney said. ‘‘Matt Cain is one of them. Taking Jason Schmidt’s spot is asking a lot. I think that would be pushing it a little bit, even though he’s going to be our No. 1 for years and I think the world of him. And also Matt Morris, who is going to bounce back. He put a lot on his shoulders.
    ‘‘I think it does a lot of that. It adds to the flexibility of our staff, too. Having Noah Lowry third or fourth is pretty good.’’
    As part of his agreement with the Giants, Zito will fund the construction of youth fields in the San Francisco area through his foundation.
    Only Alex Rodriguez ($252 million), Derek Jeter ($189 million), Manny Ramirez ($160 million), Todd Helton ($141.5 million) and Alfonso Soriano ($136 million) have contracts with more guaranteed money.
    Zito’s is the 14th $100 million deal in baseball history and the fourth of the offseason following agreements by Soriano (Cubs), Wells and Carlos Lee ($100 million with Houston).
    New York’s initial offer was for about $75 million over five years, and the Mets were prepared to go somewhat higher in average salary but were wary of offering a longer deal. Texas had told Zito’s agent, Scott Boras, that it would withdraw its proposal if it wasn’t accepted by the end of the week.

    AP Sports Writers Stephen Hawkins in Dallas and Janie McCauley in San Francisco contributed to this report.