Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Jenkins on Zito: "Definitely Not Safe"

Barry Zito took the mound for his first spring-training start on Monday and walked the ballpark. It wasn't exactly what the Giants had in mind, and here's a message to all those fans who have seen enough of Zito: He's walking a very fine line within the organization.

This beginning excerpt of Bruce Jenkins' article from Tuesday introduces the theme of his piece throughout: the front office is not happy with Barry Zito. The article caused a stir on Twitter last night among Giants fan, and this morning it has gone national. Jenkins goes on to write:

A source close to the team indicated Tuesday that there is "exasperation" with Zito, that his status as the No. 5 starter is "definitely not safe," and that the team would even consider buying out his expensive contract before Opening Day if that's what it takes to say farewell.

Well where to start? I don't know what Bruce or the source mean by "buying out", all contracts in baseball are guaranteed, so what I'm going to assume is being implied here is that the Giants would cut Zito. Jenkins' source is the only place we have heard of Zito possibly being cut, most likely because the idea is about as insane and ludicrous as things get.

Zito isn't a great pitcher. He hasn't been since 2002, maybe 2003. It was the Giants' inability to recognize this that led to the awful contract they gave him in 2007. With the Giants, he had a pretty terrible season in 2008, and has been average in all other seasons, never being hurt (an important fact to remember when we get to another point in the article), while being paid like an ace. An unfortunate situation, but one which most everyone has accepted has no solution. After all, what is the solution that Jenkins seems to imply the Giants are considering? That they will simply cut him from the roster. Well, this is stupid as hell, because then they would still be paying the entirety of the contract. There's only one way that would maybe be the thing to do, and that would be if Zito was a terrible pitcher, which seems to be precisely the fallacy Jenkins is believing.

...and he wouldn't be anywhere near the Giants' roster this spring were it not for his contract: $18.5 million owed this season, another $39 million through 2013 and a $7 million buyout for 2014.

I saw a tweet this morning from a Yankees fan, saying that if the Giants cut Zito, he'd be worth a look at the league minimum. Our perception of Zito and the fact of him being so overpayed has led a lot of people to think he is somehow worthless. Know this: if Zito were to be on the open market today, he'd probably be offered half of what he's being payed now per year. That's a lot of money, but league average pitchers that you can count on to start every game of the season cost money. The league minimum contracts are reserved for oft-injured pitchers who had some good seasons but have been terrible recently (the Yankees have a bunch right now). The Giants have one of those guys in fact. His name is Jeff Suppan.

Meanwhile, the Giants will take a close look at 16-year veteran Jeff Suppan (3 shutout innings against Milwaukee on Monday), Class AA left-hander Clayton Tanner and other options for the No. 5 slot.

It's bad enough to imagine Suppan pitching at all this season; him as the 5th starter would be as bad as Todd Wellemeyer last year; now imagine cutting Zito, still paying Zito, and having Suppan replace him, while paying Suppan $1 million. That's exactly what Jenkins is suggesting the Giants are thinking of. I refuse to believe it.

...there's a healthy sense of urgency in the world champions' camp. They didn't clinch a postseason berth until the final game of the 2010 season, and they realize that just a single loss - something that could be avoided - could cost them a chance to repeat this year.

The Giants did win the World Series last year, and I would hope their sense of urgency is enough that they know to use their best pitchers. It's important to note that their is a player on the Giants with a large contract who could be cut: Aaron Rowand. Rowand, unlike Zito, does absolutely nothing for the team. His status is just as a roster spot occupier.

This last excerpt from the piece is where I really take issue with Jenkins:

There is concern that Zito hasn't been properly diligent in maintaining his physical conditioning...

Concern from who? The source (and therefore the Giants)? Yourself? People in general? I've never heard of any complaints about Zito's work ethic, and as mentioned before, he has never had injury trouble. "There is concern" sounds like a version of that infamous cable news phrase "some people say".

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