With baseball's Aug. 31 waiver trade deadline coming up, teams typically sneak their higher-priced players on waivers.
Most of the time, it's a formality with general managers putting their big-ticket assets out there just to see if they draw interest. But you just never know what might happen.
Sometimes, a team might be hoping to dump a contract that eats up their payroll. We saw this in 2009 when the Toronto Blue Jays put Alex Rios on waivers. The Chicago White Sox claimed him and the Blue Jays just dumped Rios and the nearly $60 million remaining on his contract without even trying to negotiate any sort of deal.
Could the San Francisco Giants look at doing something similar with Barry Zito? He's owed $20 million on the last year of his contract next season. That's in addition to what Zito is yet to be paid on his $19 million salary for this year. Let's say $6 million. Zito also has an $18 million club option for 2014 with a $7 million buyout. Odds are he'll get the buyout.
That's close to $35 million (if not more) yet to be paid to Zito. The Giants almost certainly don't want to pay that. Of course, few—if any—other teams would want to take on that kind of money either. More than likely, Zito would clear waivers without a claim, as no team would risk having the Giants just dump off that contract.
Any Interest in Zito?
However, if the Giants were willing to pay some of Zito's contract, a few teams might be interested in picking him up before the waiver trade deadline.
The Baltimore Orioles could use a veteran like Zito to eat some innings and stabilize their starting rotation. Though bringing a fly ball pitcher into Camden Yards to face AL East lineups could be significantly risky.
What about the team that the O's are chasing in the AL East? Would the Yankees show any interest in Zito? If Andy Pettitte isn't able to come back, the pitching staff might need another arm. Plus, left-handers tend do better in Yankee Stadium with the deeper left-field and left-center dimensions.
The Texas Rangers might have a spot for Zito as well. But after what appears to be a failed experiment with Roy Oswalt, the Rangers might not want to take a chance on another National League pitcher. Of course, Zito does have experience in the American League and won a Cy Young Award with Oakland.
A couple of NL teams could be a fit for Zito too, though the Giants surely wouldn't want to make a deal with a potential playoff opponent.
The St. Louis Cardinals, for instance, could use Zito as a fifth starter, where they're currently using rookie Joe Kelly. Jaime Garcia is set to return from a shoulder injury soon, which would fill out the rotation. But Lance Lynn and Adam Wainwright might need rest down the stretch.
The Cincinnati Reds have enjoyed tremendously good fortune in having each of their starting five pitchers make every scheduled appearance this year. No one has missed a start. But some insurance—and depth—could be useful through the last two months of the season as they compete with the Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates in the NL Central.
Better Off with Zito
As tempting as it might be to shed Zito's contract, the fact is that the Giants need him for the rest of the season.
For one thing, Zito is pitching relatively well. In his most recent start, he held the Cardinals—one of the best lineups in the NL—to two runs in almost seven innings of work. And that was at Busch Stadium, not the friendlier surroundings of AT&T Park.
Yes, he was blown up for seven runs in less than five innings by the New York Mets during his previous start. Zito is still capable of getting bombed in any given appearance.
But with a 9-8 record and 4.19 ERA, Zito is having his best season since he joined the Giants in 2007.
The Giants need Zito as their fifth starter. If he were to go, there's no obvious replacement for that spot in the rotation.
Eric Surkamp might have been a candidate, but he had Tommy John surgery in late-July. Brad Penny has plenty of experience as a starter, but has only pitched in relief this season and might not be stretched out for a starter's workload.
Two other possibilities from Triple-A Fresno could be Eric Hacker and Yusmeiro Petit.
Hacker is 12-5 with a 3.99 ERA in 23 starts for the Grizzlies this season. He made a spot start for the Giants in April, pitching six innings and allowing three runs with seven strikeouts. Petit has a 3.25 ERA in 23 starts with 124 strikeouts in 135.2 innings. But he hasn't pitched in the majors since 2009 and was kind of a disaster, compiling a 5.57 ERA in 71 career appearances.
But the Giants simply can't afford to get rid of a starting pitcher when they're in a tight division race with the Los Angeles Dodgers. A wild-card playoff spot could be at stake too.
Considering the alternatives, Zito looks like a valuable asset, even for $35 million.
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