San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy announced on Friday that left-handed starter Barry Zito has been pulled from the rotation and will be replaced, at least temporarily, by Guillermo Moscoso. Considering that Zito is scheduled to make $18 million next year unless the Giants exercise his $7 million dollar buyout clause, it is difficult to see him returning to the club next year.
For a 2014 rotation that seemed so unstable a couple months ago, things have now settled into place for the most part. This past week, general manager Brian Sabean said that the team expects to give starter Tim Lincecum a qualifying offer for next year, as opposed to the previous widespread belief that Lincecum and the Giants would go their separate ways after this season. In addition, 30-year-old starter Chad Gaudin, who has been a revelation this year with a 2.64 ERA in nine starts and 27 total appearances, said that he wants to re-sign with the Giants next season.
It’s difficult to see the team not bringing back Ryan Vogelsong next year, so they seem to have a complement of five guys, plus the opportunity for contributions from young left-handers Eric Surkamp, Michael Kickham and Edwin Escobar.
Given that the Giants have those options, it no longer makes sense to have Zito on the roster next year, even if they were to bring him back on a cheaper deal. Their decision to remove him from a starting role right now, particularly because they are replacing him with a pitcher who went all season without being able to make his way onto the Chicago Cubs‘ disastrous pitching staff, signifies that Zito won’t have a chance to recover a starting role next year. Though it would have been possible for the Giants to keep Zito starting and shift Gaudin or Lincecum to the bullpen, they obviously believe right now that those two are superior starting options.
It will be interesting to see how Zito fares as a reliever, and if he keeps his roster spot when Vogelsong is ultimately activated from the disabled list. It would seem that he would be more successful in a role where the Giants can control the situations in which he throws, considering his bipolar splits this year: he’s limiting hitters to a .241 average with a 2.45 ERA at home, while while he has a .406 BAA with a 9.50 ERA on the road.
In the long run, though, they can’t just go with a six-man bullpen for every road game, so Zito will need to straighten things out. It’s very unlikely that Zito will be a reliever for the Giants any longer than until the end of the year due to lefties Jeremy Affeldt and Jose Mijares being under contract next year and Javier Lopez possibly returning. That being said, it will be interesting to see if he has a future career as a left-handed specialist.
Though Zito’s Giants career has been full of ups and downs, it’s likely that it will be looked upon favorably by most fans. The team’s only two World Series championships in San Francisco have come with Zito on the roster, and his fabulous start in St. Louis in last year’s NLCS was perhaps the key ingredient in the team reaching the Fall Classic. As his stint with the team presumably comes to an unceremonious end over the next couple months, the Giants organization and their fans should take time to appreciate the impact that he has had and respect him for it.