By now we've seen why keeping Barry Zito despite his hefty pricetag makes sense. But the Giants have another monster on their hands, and that's Aaron Rowand.
Unfortunately, while there are a lot of teams that would love to have a fourth or fifth starter that had an ERA around 4.00, and that could log 200 innings of solid pitching, there aren't that many that are looking for an outfielder that can only play center who doesn't really hit for power or average all that consistently.
That's what Rowand is. And with Andres Torres taking over in center, NLCS MVP Cody Ross pretty much guaranteed the starting right-fielder, and Pat Burrell/Mark DeRosa providing a nice patient, power-laden, probably promiscuous pair in left (ALLITERATION ALERT!), that last outfield spot comes down to Rowand and Nate Schierholtz.
And if you're comparing those two nice people for the final roster spot, it's a really tough decision. If you're just comparing the statistics, it gets a lot easier. Let's break it down in complicated math terms.
First up: OFFENSE
Aaron Rowand (career): .276/.335/.432
Nate Schierholtz (career): .270/.314/.399
Easy, right? Rowand gets on base more, hits for more power, and is more of a gamer. I mean, come on, how many times has Nate Schierholtz broken his nose in order to make the catch? None times.
Let's try again. But lets go off what Rowand has done since signing his deal with the Giants in 2008.
Aaron Rowand (Giants): .257/.318/.405
Nate Schierholtz (Giants): .270/.314/.399
So now they're comparable. Kind of.
With Zito, the money can't influence your decision, because pitching is so flukey that you'd rather overpay for consistency than gamble on unproven talent. So even though he makes $20M/yr to have an ERA of 4.00 and win 13 games, it's better than Brad Hennessey/Pat Misch/Matt Palmer in 2008.
In the field, and at the plate, however, things are different. Rowand doesn't exactly have the power numbers to merit keeping him despite his average faults (a la Pat Burrell). He's not exactly a guy who sprays gap-to-gap either, like Schierholt or Torres. His strikeout ratio has gone up (4.63 SO/BB, 21% overall in 2010), while Schierholtz's has only gone down (1.90 SO/BB, 15%).
It also seems that Rowand, like Sisyphus of Greek myth, is perpetually rolling over an outside pitch to shortstop, only to have it roll back, requiring him to do it again. And again. And again. Last year he grounded out 112 times in 331 at-bats.
Rowand's batting value, as explained here, is also less than Schierholtz's. Honestly, WAR still goes over my head sometimes, but I know that some numbers are bigger than other numbers and in certain situations, that means someone is better than someone else.
Schierholtz, however, is showcasing pretty well this spring, hitting at a .302 clip. He's a streaky hitter, but it's hard to gauge what he's done without a full season under his belt. He played in more games than ever last year (137), but he had less at-bats because of his usefulness as a defensive replacement.
He's also (surprisingly) a much better hitter as a pinch-hitter (.333/.381/.453), and against left-handed pitching (.354/.390/.500). Rowand is a career .209 hitter off the bench, and is pretty consistent regardless of what side of the rubber the pitcher is throwing from, hitting .275 against righties and .278 against southpaws.
So when you get down to the nitty-gritty of the offensive stats and roles, Aaron Rowand isn't that much better, if at all, than Nate Schierholtz.
Moving on: DEFENSE
Schierholtz UZR 6.4/17.9 Arm +3.4
Rowand UZR 1.9/3.3 Arm -0.7
Those are the UZR numbers from last year. Rowand did win a Gold Glove in Philadelphia, but he's not Andres Torres. And without corner outfielder offensive numbers...let's just say that no one gets super excited about a left-fielder with outstanding range.
Schierholtz also has a cannon in right field, and although he doesn't seem that fast, he gets around right field very well, playing the wall at AT&T as well as Randy Winn ever did. Rowand has an arm, as he showed during the playoffs, but Schierholtz is an arm that opposing players think twice about running on.
Nate came in to 96 games as a sub last year. Rowand came into 29. And both of their inability to play multiple outfield positions hurts them. But with Torres and even Cody Ross showing the ability to play centerfield, Rowand becomes expendable.
With replacements readily available, Schierholtz ($416,500 in 2010) is both a better fit on the team and on the payroll than Rowand and his $12M contract.
Verdict: NATE THE GREAT WINS
It's hard because Rowand took his demotion with a lot of professionalism last year, but accepting a demotion and earning a spot are two very different things. It would be a lot easier if he was Milton Bradley, or JaMarcus Russell, but he's not.
If they can't find a trade partner, they might have to release him and eat the contract. But eating Rowand's contract is definitely going down easier than Zito's would. And I hate to say it, but that's just baseball.