If you buy what The New York Sun’s Tim Marchman is selling, the Giants’ 7-year, $126 million pact for Barry Zito is analgous to the Rockies’ signing of Mike Hampton. No comparisons of the Denver public schools versus those in S.F, thankfully.

Where might this deal rate among the worst of all time? Zito has been a very good pitcher for a very long time, so it’s obviously far too early to say; a bad half doesn’t make him a bust, and he may yet turn out to be the new Glavine. For now, though, things aren’t looking good. Zito may be remembered for decades to come, for all the wrong reasons.

That’s no necessarily fair. Ballplayers get paid what someone is willing to pay them; it’s an obvious point, but one people forget. Zito, so long as he’s giving his best effort, isn’t robbing the Giants; he’s a partner in a business deal gone sour. It’s also worth noting that ballplayers don’t make that much money, relatively speaking. Last year, for instance, the top 25 best paid hedge fund managers made $570 million apiece. James Simons raked in twice as much cash last year as Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, and Kevin Brown have collectively earned in their careers.

Here we run into a quandary. Let’s say Zito pitches the way he has this year for the rest of his deal, and putters along pitching as well as a fringy Class AAA pitcher, but totting up 200 innings a year. Would that be better or worse than racking up a couple of passable seasons and then conveniently getting hurt, freeing up your roster spot for a better player and allowing your team to cash in on your insurance policy? I’m not sure, but I suspect that if Zito actively damages his team’s pennant hopes for seven years, he still won’t be remembered as being a bigger bust than Hampton. There’s a lot to be said for simply playing, no matter how badly you perform.

Those, surprisingly, are the only deals to which you can really compare Zito’s. Chan Ho Park and Darren Dreifort signed legendarily bad contracts in 2001, but their combined value in 2006 dollars was $136 million, not much more than Zito’s deal is worth. And while various other massive contracts, like those Kevin Brown and Jason Giambi signed, have gone bad, the players involved have generally put up some excellent seasons before falling apart.

The Boston Herald’s Rob Bradford, while hinting that David Ortiz is playing in tremendous pain, tackles the thorny question of whether or not the Red Sox might make another run at Alex Rodriguez next winter.

To me this is all going to come down to Scott Boras and his analysis of the market. Everybody thought he was crazy to have J.D. Drew opt out of a guaranteed $33 million for three years, but Boras knew what was waiting around the corner. At first glance, it would appear as though the market would favor Rodriguez. Thethird base crop isn™t very strong , and neither are the shortstops available. The question is whether or not Boras feels like the Red Sox, or whomever, will pay more than the $27 million per year ARod is due the next three seasons. (It™s actually more as explained by Cot™s Baseball Contracts: œRodriguez may void after 2008 or 2009 unless club increases 2009-10 salary by $5M/year or $1M more than highest-paid MLB position player.) The Red Sox are going to need a middle of the order presence very soon with Manny™s run coming to an end, but I still have a hard time believing Boston will allocate that much money to one player. My gut feeling: I think he stays in New York. I think a run at Miguel Cabrera, who becomes a free agent after the ˜09 season, is more likely.