- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN Insider
- General manager Brian Sabean rejected the supposition that the team leaked the story to light a fire under Zito, who walked five of the 13 batters he faced in a rough exhibition debut Monday.
"Absolutely, unequivocally not," Sabean said. "We have too much respect for players, and more so, I have a great relationship with Barry Zito. If things had gotten to that point, I would have talked to him directly, firsthand."
First and foremost: There would have to be an attractive Plan B available before the Giants seriously considered dropping Zito. Maybe that would be Jeff Suppan, or maybe somebody else. Maybe they find somebody more predictable than Zito, somebody who pounds the strike zone.
But if they decided they have a Plan B, and they decided to turn the page on Zito, the timing could not be better, because the power brokers in the organization are working from the strongest possible position.
If they had dumped Zito a year ago, the Giants would have had to endure a cycle of bad reviews over the team's decision to invest a seven-year, $126 million deal in a pitcher whose velocity had already begun to regress. It's never fun to have a mistake hung around your neck, and a year ago, Zito's departure would have dangled from GM Brian Sabean like a cast-iron church bell.
But Sabean is golden now, having made decisive moves that led the Giants to their first championship in 56 years. He is the guy who signed Aubrey Huff when there wasn't a lot of interest in Huff, and he is the guy who added Pat Burrell when a lot of teams thought Burrell was done, and he put a waiver claim on Cody Ross and then watched him deliver body blows in the playoffs. For their work, Sabean gave contract extensions, and they will never have to buy refreshing beverages in the San Francisco area for the rest of their lives.
The franchise is thriving. The interest in the Giants has exploded; the seats in AT&T Park will be filled. Owner Bill Neukom is highly respected among his peers.
If the Giants feel there is a better pitcher for their rotation than Zito and thus decided to cut him, eating the $64.5 million still owed to him, the conversation about his contract would last about 24 hours -- and then the conversation would change, almost immediately. The talk would be about Pablo Sandoval's new body, or Buster Posey's second year, or the progress of Madison Bumgarner. Zito would quickly become an afterthought, because of the Giants' success last year, and because the simple fact is that for most of Zito's time with the team, he has not pitched well.
He was an important part of the rotation in the first half of last season, going 4-0 with a 1.53 ERA in April. But he struggled badly down the stretch; the Giants were 1-8 in his last nine starts, as they were fighting to run down the Padres.
It's hard to imagine that the Giants would cut Zito in the immediate future, before they see more in spring training, before they see how he responds to their reported request to him to alter his training. But if they decide sometime this season that cutting Zito makes them better, they will be working from a position of Teflon credibility.
• Justin Morneau is not yet cleared to play in games; he is waiting for the spell to break, writes La Velle Neal. Jim Souhan does his best Kevin Bacon amid a lot of concern from Twins fans, and advises that everybody remain calm.
• Chris Carpenter is thinking that he'll miss just one turn in the rotation, after tweaking a hamstring. Lance Lynn, one of the candidates to replace Adam Wainwright in the St. Louis rotation, had a nice outing, as Derrick Goold writes.
"I loved it when he said, 'Oh, you play for the White Sox?'" Pierzynski said with amusement. "I said, 'How did you guess? Figure it out."
Pierzynski elected to make the 15-minute drive instead of taking the team bus. His citation was first reported via Twitter by manager Ozzie Guillen, who joked later that the ticket was "awesome news" in light of the Sox's 0-3 start.
Pierzynski said he never had an inkling he would receive only a warning, adding that he would pay the fine for traveling 10 mph over the 65 mph speed limit.
But he did request the officer return his auto insurance card.
"I need that because that's the worst part," Pierzynski said. "I have to pay the ticket. They said in the dugout they would get a collection up if they let the cop taze me."
• One talent evaluator's view of Domonic Brown's altered swing: "The athleticism has been taken out. What made him good as a hitter has been removed from his swing." Brown's struggles are not merely a spring training slump, writes Bill Conlin. He has become the center of attention in the Phillies' camps.
• Katie Sharp of ESPN Stats & Information sent along this evaluation of Chipper Jones:
One area of decline for Chipper Jones over the last three seasons has been his performance versus non-fastballs. We took a closer look with Inside Edge. In 2008, Jones was one of the best hitters against non-fastballs, with a .342 average which ranked second in the majors. There was little difference in his production when seeing fastballs or non-fastballs, as he hit .375 against the heater that year. However, his batting average versus non-fastballs has dropped nearly 90 points each season since then, despite seeing those pitches nearly the same amount over the past three seasons. Since that .342, he dipped to .257 in 2009, then 2010 last year, with a miss percentage of 30.7. This is especially true on the right side. Last year, hitting right-handed he hit just .098 versus non-fastballs. The previous year, he'd hit .246 from the right side and .263 from the left. The biggest issue for Chipper with slow stuff is when it is located away. Last year, on soft stuff away he hit just .136 after going .274 in 2009 and .358 in 2008.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. A group linked to the Tampa Bay Rays is looking to invest in the Mets, writes Peter Lattman. If the Wilpons can't hang onto the Mets, then Rays owner Stuart Sternberg would be a natural to take control of the team, just as L.A.-based Lew Wolff -- currently the owner of the Athletics -- would be a fit to buy the Dodgers.
Derek Jeter is signed with the Yankees for this season and for three more to follow, but going forward, I think the relationship with the veteran infielder will be defined entirely by the team's perception of what is needed to win. If the club's decision-makers come to believe they will be better served with somebody else hitting first in the lineup, or second, then Jeter will be dropped in the batting order. If Jeter bounces back offensively and plays serviceable defense, Jeter will be the shortstop in 2012. If the Yankees come out of 2011 believing that Jeter is not an effective shortstop, then he will be switched to another position.
Which is part of the reason Reyes' status as a likely free agent is worth watching. If he has a big year and plays in 150 games and Jeter's performance declines again, there would be a natural solution available for the Yankees. And again: It seems the time for a dispensation for past World Series rings has expired for Jeter.
Dings and dents
The battle for jobs
4. Zach Britton is more mature and may win a job in the Orioles' rotation, writes Jeff Zrebiec.
6. Yuniesky Maya was impressive.
13. Some younger Seattle guys looked good.
• Maybe the best thing Scott Boras did for a lot of his clients through the years was get them to work with Harvey Dorfman, who has passed away, sadly. Dorfman had a major impact on Roy Halladay, writes Phil Sheridan.
• Better days are coming for the Royals, writes Sam Mellinger.
• Michael Weiner, head of the union, doesn't see a salary cap on the horizon.
• A D-backs prospect is impressing folks.
• The Angels want to increase their stolen-base totals, writes Kevin Baxter.
• Some Detroit prospects to keep an eye on, courtesy of Lynn Henning.
• The Rockies are looking to be more aggressive.
• The Pirates are trying to slow down opposing runners, as Colin Dunlap writes.
• We've got our first game on ESPN today, at 1 p.m. Eastern -- the Tigers versus the Braves, from Orlando. Max Scherzer will be on the mound, and Dan Shulman will be doing the game with Bobby Valentine and Orel Hershiser and myself, and I guarantee that we'll be talking about these topics, among many others: the Atlanta closer competition; the progress of Freddie Freeman and Miguel Cabrera since games have started; an underrated strength of the Tigers. And we'll try to get Chipper Jones to tell that great Jim Thome story on the air.
And today will be better than yesterday.