By Michelle Dingley
The Giants did two surprising things on Wednesday. One was earning a win. The other was dropping two veterans from the roster.
Aaron Rowand and Miguel Tejada were designated for assignment. Taking their roster spots are Pat Burrell, activated from the DL, and Brett Pill, called up from Triple-A Fresno.
This is where the disappointing statistics could be rolled out (for example, Rowand hit .233 this year, while Tejada managed .239), but why? Giants fans what they did and didn’t do. Rowand was a strong defender but didn’t quite light the world on fire with his bat. He contributed to our world championship title even though he wasn’t a starter. He made one of the best plays of October during game 4 of the NLCS. Rowand charged in on a single to center, and with a perfect throw home and a beautiful tag by Buster Posey, he nailed Carlos Ruiz at the plate. In 2011, he carried the team for the first few weeks of the season. That was back when we thought our offensive struggles were temporary. Rowand had the Giants’ first walk-off of the year. He won the marathon home opener for us with a knock off the wall, beating the Cardinals 5-4. More recently, Rowand came through here and there with a pinch hit and was solid in the outfield. Kruk and Kuip mentioned numerous times that Rowand was constantly in the batting cages. He put more work in on his swing than anyone else. He wanted to earn back his spot as an everyday player. Hopefully he will be able to find a starting spot on another team.
The haters should now be happy: the Tejada experiment is over. The Giants raised a lot of eyebrows upon signing him in the offseason. Fans weren’t exactly surprised by his poor performance. Sure, his range is diminished and his bat isn’t quite where we’d like it, but he still has a fantastic arm. He always seemed to make the difficult plays, but he had trouble making the easy ones. Early in the season, while fielding a grounder, he stepped on his glove and pulled it off his hand. Tejada wasn’t exactly what we needed at short, but he was an important cog in this broken-down machine. He filled in well at third when Sandoval fractured his hamate bone, and he played decently at second when Bochy placed him there. The night after Rowand’s walk-off, Tejada hit one of his own. Sure, the Cardinals’ outfielder dropped the ball, but he had a long run and it was not an easy play. Either way, Miggy won that game for us. For those who are celebrating Tejada’s departure, remember that he was an important part of the team, even if it wasn’t always pretty.
The Giants as an organization have long stuck by veterans, often at the expense of their talented young players. Nonetheless, Bruce Bochy has shown himself to put the team before the feelings of our veteran players. In 2010, Bochy sat Rowand for the majority of the year while Torres acted as the spark plug for our offense. Bochy kept Zito off the postseason roster, although he is the highest paid player on the team. With the release of Rowand, the franchise eats a good $12 million, which they owe the outfielder for the last year of his contract. Barry Zito is owed around $46 million through 2013, and with no available roster spot for the much maligned starter, it’s starting to look slightly possible that he may be dumped as well. The release of Rowand and Tejada may be a sign that the Giants are starting to reconsider their perspective on veterans. Brian Sabean said the moves were “damage control,” and that the two veterans were dealing with “diminished playing time, diminished roles.” Basically, they were of no more use to us. Tejada’s spot was taken by Orlando Cabrera, and our overcrowded outfield will become more congested in September. In addition to Burrell, Darren Ford and Francisco Peguero could be joining the team on Friday. The veterans had already been relegated to the pinch-hit role, and we should now have better options in that respect with the September call-ups.
Rowand and Tejada are hardly the only struggling veterans on the team. Aubrey Huff’s underwhelming performance this year has been well documented. Cody Ross is not swinging the bat as expected. Mark DeRosa has suffered through injuries and not done much in his two seasons on the team, at least until earlier this week. Pat Burrell, though he does have 7 homers this season, has not made as big a mark in 2011 as hoped. There have been plenty of rumors that Rowand and Tejada were the ones chosen to get the boot because of their attitudes, but, performance-wise, any of these veterans could have been cut. The roster moves mostly come down to the need to do something, anything. The organization needed to mix it up. Insanity is often defined as doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result. Bochy had tried every lineup configuration possible to no avail. There was no consistent winning combination to be found. Things just weren’t working for the Giants, so they were forced to make a change. These roster moves are unlikely to make a big difference in the team’s performance, since both Rowand and Tejada have not played much recently. Still, they had to try something.
The Giants have gone downhill over the last month, plummeting from bad to abysmal. The players knew some personnel changes were coming. It’s possible that the threat of an ax hanging over their heads caused them to play more poorly, to get distracted in the field or grind more at the plate. Now that the ax has fallen, it remains to be seen if this will help or hurt morale. Losing friends at the workplace, even if they didn’t have the best attitude, is always painful. Also, with the new kids coming in on Friday, other guys may see less playing time and find themselves suddenly expendable. With the release of Rowand, management showed that even a multi-million dollar contract isn’t enough to secure your employment. The fear of losing not just a spot in the starting lineup, but also a position on the team, may not quickly dissipate. After layoffs, for example, the fear of more on the horizon doesn’t instantly go away. It takes a while to trust that you will still have a job for the next month or even the next day. It’s possible this will hurt the Giants, at least in the short run.
Then again, maybe the changes are a good thing. Maybe a little shake-up is exactly what they need. Maybe a swift kick in the pants will wake them up. Maybe the knowledge that their jobs are not safe that will jump-start the offense. The Giants finally won a game, so it can’t be all bad.