When Barry Zito signed his $126 million deal with the Giants in December of 2006, everyone thought it was too much money. Zito was the third starter of the A's Three Aces, and the only one NOT to be traded away, with Tim Hudson going to the Braves and Mark Mulder to the Cardinals.
The consensus was a gross overpayment on San Francisco's part. When he didn't perform up to expectations, going 11-13 with the highest ERA of his career (4.53), critics deemed him a failure in contract negotiation by Giants brass.
When the Giants proceeded to sign Aaron Rowand a year later to a seemingly similarly bloated contract, a five year deal worth $60 million, it seemed like deja vu for Giants faithful.
The Giants had just decided not to re-sign Barry Bonds, and the offensive replacement they brought in was an all-out all-the-time center-fielder whose best offensive season brought in 27 homers, a paltry sum when compared with the all-time homerun king.
Neither has been what the Giants needed when they signed them.
Zito has hardly been the ace of the staff that he was expected to be, and his BEST record came that first year in 2007 with a sub-par .458 winning percentage. Zito's overall record with the Giants is an underwhelming 31-43, with a 4.56 ERA.
In the other corner, Rowand was far from the offensive force that he was supposed to be replacing, hitting only 28 home runs in two years, with a .266 batting average. Not many people can justify paying $12 million a year for a sixth or seventh hitter in the lineup. His centerfield play was stellar, but "web gems" don't have the same game-winning qualities that RBIs have.
Going into 2010, expectations needed to shift, and those two needed to produce.
Barry Zito's attitude change was outlined here, highlighted by a deferral of attention from him to the new ace, Tim Lincecum, and the fact that there were new huge contracts to talk about.
Aaron Rowand also had a change, mostly in shape. He biked all off-season, losing 15 pounds and coming back to Spring Training in the best shape of his career. He tore through the spring with a .429 average, and looked to carry it over into the regular season.
And since the start of the season, both of these players have started earning their big money.
Zito is in the top five in Wins and ERA, with a 5-0 record and a miniscule 1.29 ERA. All of the starts have been quality starts, and his shortest outings were two 6.0 inning outings to start off the year. Since then, he has pitched into the eighth inning four times.
I think its safe to say that he's had the best start of his career, and one that has caught a lot of critics with their mouths open. He's dominating every start, and his pinpoint control with all of his pitches has been noticed.
Rowand took a more balanced stance into the Spring, and when he started off the year by grounding out on the first pitch, fans were worried. When he proceeded to take an 0-10 in the first two games of the Houston series, his struggles took a back seat to Renteria's smoking start.
Since then however, he took a few multi-hit games and brought his average up to .304 before taking a Vicente Padilla fastball off the cheekbone. Although Rowand probably tried to sneak in the lineup the next day, he went on the DL and had to wait to be reactivated.
After looking like he was shaking off the rust after a few days off in his first game back against Colorado, Rowand has had 8 hits and 9 RBI's in four games. His average now stands at .333, and he has been a catalyst in the leadoff position for the Giants.
It will be hard to say with a straight face that these clips will continue all season. But the mentality is there, something that will persevere through slumps and emerge more often than not.
If Rowand can stay on this streak and continue to be a consistent leadoff option, the Giants will keep setting the table and scoring runs.
If Zito can keep pitching like he has, I'm pretty sure he will NOT finish the year 34-0 as projected by his stats by far, but he could possibly win close to 20 games this year if we account for a little variation. That would be around $1 million per win, which isn't bad at all seeing as they've paid him $43 million for 36 wins so far.
These two veterans are now becoming just that: veterans. Their clubhouse presence is also being paid for, not just their stats. But now, they do have the stats to back up their veteran images.
They're earning their money now, and even though their contracts might still be a little inflated, having a good year will definitely make everyone forget that.