- Can the new Giants break with Zito, even if he's still less than halfway through his seven-year, $126 million deal, signed before the 2007 season?
They have to seriously consider pulling Zito from the rotation when and if Randy Johnson is ready to go, presuming Jonathan Sanchez and Ryan Sadowski hold up.
And the Giants have to very seriously consider trying to trade Zito to any suitable team that will take some of his money (Zito has a no-trade clause); or they have to think about releasing him in the off-season.
Of course, at the end of this season, Zito will still be owed a guaranteed $83 million. Which is a lot.
But that was Peter Magowan's mistake, with Sabean's silent acceptance. That was part of the flawed organization that Neukom inherited, and Sabean set out to repair.
They can consider dropping Zito a necessary write-off of a past mistake. A sacrifice made for the larger cause.
Maybe they're already planning for Madison Bumgarner to take that spot in 2010, or Tim Alderson and Bumgarner for Zito and Johnson by May.
The playoffs, however, beckon now. Zito is killing them now. He's the most likely pitcher in baseball to be blown out - 16 of his past 50 starts dating to 2008 have been five innings or less, surrendering four runs or more.
There is only one elephant left in the Giants' clubhouse. They used to have many more. They used to be much worse.
Now the Giants are light and feisty, and only Zito is weighing them down.
It's a simple equation, really: Are we better with this guy, or without him?
That simple equation can sometimes be complicated by known unknowns. But aside from Zito's poor performance, he doesn't seem to be causing much trouble within the organization. And there are worse pitchers in the majors getting regular work. So, again, the question is whether or not the pitchers getting Zito's regular work would be worse than him. I mean, right now, when the Giants sit atop the wild-card standings.
Ryan Sadowski? Yes, he's given up only three runs in three starts. He's also walked nearly as many batters as he's struck out. And his ERA in 153 Triple-A innings is 4.47 ... and a chunk of those Triple-A innings came as a reliever. Prior to this season, Sadowski was not regarded as one of the Giants' 30 best prospects. Will he hold up? I'd say the odds are not in his (or the Giants') favor.
Jonathan Sanchez? Yes, he just threw a no-hitter. He's still got an ERA just a tad lower than Zito's, along with a strikeout-to-walk ratio that's also a tad lower (and that's not a good lower).
Randy Johnson? His ERA is in the same range as Zito's. Also, he's like a gazillion years old.
Bottom line, the Giants have one great starter (Tim Lincecum), one good starter (Matt Cain), and a whole bunch of big question marks. Releasing Zito might feel good for a moment, but it might hurt a few weeks down the line if the Giants are forced to use somebody in the rotation who's simply not ready. Bumgarner? Yeah, he's the real deal. Having thrown 57 brilliant innings in the Double-A Eastern League this season, he's ready for the next level and might be good enough to skip that one.
Until the Giants deem Bumgarner ready, though, I don't believe that eating Zito's contract is a luxury the Giants can afford. Not unless he's hurting the club even more than his ERA would suggest. Because right now he's a perfectly serviceable replacement-level major league starter. And of course they have to pay him either way.