SAN FRANCISCO – Aaron Rowand and Barry Zito account for nearly a third of the San Francisco Giants' payroll this season, making $30.5 million between them.
Now that their team is in the playoffs, it's unclear what role, if any, either struggling big-money player will have for the Giants in their division series against wild-card Atlanta. Game 1 is Thursday night at AT&T Park, where the red, white and blue playoff banners were up Tuesday and the NLDS logos were being painted along the first- and third-base lines before the Giants held a workout.
It sure would be a lot of money on the sidelines if they are left off the roster. Many wonder if the Giants have the guts to send them both away for the best-of-five first round. Rosters can be changed for the best-of-seven championship series.
General manager Brian Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy were meeting before the team's practice. Rowand hadn't heard anything and didn't expect to until at least Wednesday. Bochy said the Giants might push their final decisions right up to Thursday's deadline.
"It is what it is," said Rowand, who has impressive numbers against two Braves starters. "I'll deal with it when it comes out."
Zito looks nothing like his former dominant self from his days across San Francisco Bay in Oakland, where he won 23 games and the AL Cy Young Award in 2002. The 32-year-old lefty (9-14), signed to a $126 million, seven-year deal before the 2007 season, was booed off the field when he left after a season-low three innings in Saturday's 4-2 loss to the San Diego Padres. The Giants clinched their first NL West title and playoff berth since 2003 on Sunday, in their third try.
San Francisco's rotation will go Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and — perhaps — rookie Madison Bumgarner. Bochy didn't rule out Zito. There's the question of what value Zito could have coming out of the bullpen considering the Giants already have reliable lefty relievers in Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez.
"Whatever they think is best, I'm happy to help out starting or in the bullpen," Bumgarner said.
Sabean has been leaning toward keeping 11 pitchers on the 25-man division series roster. Zito, making $18.5 million this year, could help out if the Giants were to fall behind quickly and need him for long relief.
San Francisco's bullpen has gone the last 24 innings without allowing an earned run.
"The pitching staff alone allows you to be able to have some adjustments made to your roster along the way," Sabean said. "Depth helps. You can see it, from the rotation, to the bullpen, offensively, defensively."
Zito failed to reach 10 wins for the first time since his rookie season in 2000. His 4.15 ERA is the fourth-highest of his career. He went 1-8 with a 6.72 ERA over his last 11 outings and 10 starts and only had one victory in his last 15 appearances. The stretch included a career-worst nine-game losing streak from July 21 to Sept. 14.
Zito didn't want to address speculation about his status for the playoffs.
"I was frustrated with my performance in August, certainly," he said. "I think, as the last start of the year, it really ended on a sour note personally, but I felt like it was a productive year for me and I felt I gave the team a chance to win more than I did my last few years."
Zito pitched well in a no-decision against the Braves on Aug. 6 at Turner Field. He allowed two runs and four hits in seven innings with 10 strikeouts as the Giants won 3-2 in 11 innings.
"I know there's been a lot of talk about Barry," Bochy said. "He's had his struggles here lately but that's going to be a decision we make in the next day or two."
The 33-year-old Rowand, meanwhile, lost his starting job in center field midway through the year to Andres Torres, who has sparked the offense in the leadoff spot while making things happen on the basepaths and in the field. When Bochy starts Jose Guillen in right field, it leaves Cody Ross and Nate Schierholtz as options off the bench. San Francisco might not keep both Rowand and Schierholtz.
Schierholtz has speed that makes him capable of entering as a pinch-runner or coming in for defense. Rowand could be the odd man out, though he has won a World Series and postseason experience is valuable.
Rowand also is batting .478 (11 for 23) against Game 1 Braves starter Derek Lowe, and .381 (8 for 21) versus Game 3 starter Tim Hudson.
"We have some time here. Sure, we have some tough decisions, we know it," Bochy said. "You don't want to set up your roster too early. ... We have a pretty good idea. We're just waiting before we announce the roster."
For the reputation Bochy has had in the past for favoring veterans, he took his chances in 2010 with guys like Torres and rookie catcher Buster Posey. The two have been huge.
Making constant lineup adjustments and sitting players like Pablo Sandoval during slumps has taken regular communication.
"Boch has done a great job. It's never talked about," Sabean said. "For everything that he supposedly isn't — we know he's not outgoing and we know he's not a fire and brimstone guy — you talk to the players and they have needed him this year maybe more than any other year. Whether it's telling them when they're going to play or not going to play or when things change, he's upfront with them. That's all they can ask for — consistency and being honest. He's not in it for himself. He's not in it to further his career. He just wants to go to the playoffs for the Giants."