Bruce Jenkins is a longtime San Francisco Chronicle writer, so his column today suggesting the Giants may release Barry Zito and eat the remainder of his contract is likely to get a lot of attention, but … well, it just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
Jenkins starts by writing that Zito “is walking a very fine line within the organization” and then says an unnamed source told him “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.”
Why would the defending World Series champions suddenly feel the need to ditch Zito? According to Jenkins “there’s a healthy sense of urgency” because “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.”
Huh? So, because the Giants got into the playoffs by a slim margin they’re thinking about releasing a pitcher who threw 199 innings with a perfectly decent 4.15 ERA last season and is still owed $65 million through 2013?
And what kind of logic is “they realize that just a single loss–something that could be avoided–could cost them a chance to repeat”? Every team in baseball is going to lose at least 60 times this season, so referring to “a single loss” as “something that could be avoided” sure seems like nothing more than a lame attempt to stir the pot around Zito.
Jenkins goes on to cite Zito’s lack of offseason conditioning and poor spring training debut, which are certainly legitimate issues, but the notion that they’re ready to ditch him a month before Opening Day rings pretty hollow when Jenkins also writes that “the Giants will take a close look at 16-year veteran Jeff Suppan” as one of the “other options” for the fifth spot in the rotation. The same Jeff Suppan who’s 10-20 with a 5.20 ERA in the past two seasons and hasn’t had an ERA as low as Zito’s 2010 mark since 2006.
There’s no doubt that signing Zito to a seven-year, $126 million contract was a mistake and there’s little doubt that the Giants would have gotten rid of him already if not for the money he’s still owed, but Zito has a 4.09 ERA during the past two seasons and releasing him isn’t going to save any of that money. He’s among the best fifth starters in baseball and is certainly better than Suppan or the Giants’ other options. Maybe Jenkins has inside information, in which case I’ll gladly apologize for doubting him, but until then his column looks like an all-too-familiar attempt to “get people talking” by generating some false controversy.