The End of the Aaron Rowand Era

They say desperate times call for desperate measures. In San Francisco, desperate times apparently call for sane, resonable, and rational measures. Today, the Giants have designated Aaron Rowand and Miguel Tejada for assignment.

The Tejada decision was an easy one: he was on a one-year deal and simply never showed MLB ability this season, posting a .239/.270/.326 line. The Rowand decision, on the other hand required more than simply dumping an aging veteran who would be gone at the end of the season anyway. Designating Rowand for assignment at this juncture is that decision we so often see general managers (or ownership) shy away from at the most important times: cutting bait on a big, long-term contract.

Rowand is currently in the fourth year of a five-year, $60 million dollar contract. He is still owed roughly $2 million for the rest of 2011 and $12 million for the 2012 season. But with Rowand contributing only 0.7 WAR in 2011 and 4.8 WAR from 2008-2011, it was increasingly difficult for Brian Sabean and the Giants to justify his spot on the roster. Hindsight, of course, is simple, and Aaron Rowand was once a very good baseball player. Did Sabean whiff on the decision to pay Rowand, or was the ill-fated deal more about the player failing to live up to his value?

In the four years prior to his signing with San Francisco — 2004-2007, spent with the White Sox and then Phillies — Rowand had established an All-Star level of play. Over those four years, Rowand compiled 17.5 wins above replacement, hitting for solid power (76 homers) and playing solid defense in center field (+35 UZR).

Rowand was on a 4-win pace and the Giants signed him for an average salary of $12 million per season — back in 2008, that means they were basically projecting him to be a 3-win player out of the gates. Rowand was projected for a .278/.340/.429 line by ZiPS entering the 2008 season compared to a .267/.334/.426 average line for center fielders. As a slightly above-average hitter and a good defender in center field, that makes him roughly — you guessed it — a three-win player.

But, of course, this simple analysis avoids the chances of breakout and attrition. And Aaron Rowand was simply on the wrong side of 30 when he signed this deal. Sign the same player as a 28 year old to the same deal, and we could be looking at a player still giving his team surplus value. With Rowand, his 30s were not kind. Every single metric, including our eyes, saw Rowand’s effectiveness in center field drop upon his move to San Franicsco — and to be fair to Rowand, we shoudln’t have expected any +17 or +13 seasons that late in his career. Perhaps the bigger center field combined with a lost step spelled a quicker doom for Rowand, but bets on defensive center fielders lasting into their mid-30s rarely work.

Rowand’s bat actually lasted for the first two years of his contract — getting wOBAs over .320 out of center fielders is by no means common, particularly in a pitchers’ park like San Francisco — but Rowand needed both parts of his game to last in order to justify his contract. Then, when his bat collapsed too — 2011 is his second straight year with an OBP under .285 — his contract became the punch-line it sits at today, with Rowand now looking for work and hoping to latch swiftly to a playoff contender.

The long-term view of this contract will probably be unfair to Brian Sabean, but only the sense that this rather medium overpay may be lumped into a group of large overpays (such as Barry Zito). It wasn’t insane to believe that Aaron Rowand could hit well enough to justify the contract at the time. But so often we hear this story of the 30-year-old free agent signing busting two or three years down the road. Aaron Rowand is simply the latest precautionary tale in this category.




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67 Responses to “The End of the Aaron Rowand Era”

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  1. lester bangs says:

    Wow, a lotta words on two scrubs getting dumped. Must be a slow news day.

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    • Jake says:

      I would consider a former MVP winner and a $60 million dollar contract player getting DFA’ed news worthy..

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    • Steve LoughtoN says:

      LOL what a bunch of pussies on this site. You all thumbs down a guy because he says something you don’t like? Talk about antisocial.

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      • Bill says:

        Lester made a comment universally condemning the article without anything to back up his statement. If somebody says something is wrong without saying a thing to back up that statement, I will “-” them every time.

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      • Santos says:

        “You all thumbs down a guy because he says something you don’t like?”

        Isn’t that the point of the thumbs down option? When else would you use it?

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    • GiantHusker says:

      If you weren’t interested in the topic, you didn’t have to read the post, let alone comment on it.
      I though it was excellent.

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  2. shthar says:

    Not signing 30 year old players to 5 year old contracts should be as easy as not going to see movies with ben affleck in them.

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  3. Josh A says:

    It’s probably a bit easier to judge this now than it was at the time the contract was signed, but you’d think there would be some warning signs for a guy who posted a 93 and an 86 OPS+ in his age 27 and 28 seasons.

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  4. John says:

    The Nationals are soon going to realize ( if not already) that signing a 32 year old Jayson Werth to a 7 year deal was a disastrous mistake. That Werth deal could go down as the 2nd worst contract in baseball history ( behind Mike Hampton).

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  5. lester bangs says:

    I’m just glad there are advanced/dodgy stats to make the Red Sox look less stupid for signing Carl Crawford. No, he’s not more valuable than Ryan Braun.

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  6. Tim L. says:

    Yes, it’s great that Sabean cut ties with him when he became unproductive, but it IS yet another player that he shouldn’t have signed to a deal like that in the first place. While it might not be on the level of the Zito deal, this can get lumped into the deals he has signed for players that didn’t deserve the contract given to him when he signed it. That’s been the story of Sabean’s tenure.

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    • Richie says:

      No, I’d say the story of Sabean’s tenure would be all the moves he made in 2010 that worked out just great. After that you can get to your properly negative substories. But that 2010 team was Brian Sabean’s.

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      • Tim L. says:

        Over the course of 16 years as a GM, the majority of his moves have been on the negative side of the spectrum. And as much as that 2010 team was Brian Sabean’s, the idea that the 2011 team would be exactly like the 2010 team was a hard one to get behind considering the flukish nature of so many players’ seasons.

        I’m extremely happy that the Giants won their title in 2010, but I’d like to see a sustained amount of regular contention, too, and the moves made in the offseason didn’t reflect that.

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      • Liem says:

        What about the 2002 Giants team that featured Jeff Kent, David Bell, Benito Santiago, JT Snow, and Kenny Lofton? I’m not saying that I like Sabean’s habit of signing old dudes, but it’s simply not true that those signings rarely work out; in fact, many have worked out quite well. If we want to sound intelligent and credible in our criticism of Sabes we need to acknowledge that he has actually been moderately successful in the past with this strategy. The only problem is that this strategy, applied now to the 2011 Giants, is preventing younger, cheaper, and more talented players from developing.

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      • Bhaakon says:

        Lofton was a mid-season trade acquisition. Bell was only under contract for one season. Snow’s contract was already considered a bust by 2002 (and he player poorly that season). While I can’t remember the details of Benito’s contract, he topped out at only 2M in salary. Kent was the only high priced 30-something with a multi-year contract that paid off (ignoring Bonds, of course).

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  7. Hurtlocker says:

    If only the Giants would dump Zito too. I’m thinking that the rookie pitcher that started last week would be a better value that Zito. The kid gets only $400K so your really not adding much more salary and he may be much better than Zito in the long run.

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    • Richie says:

      Maybe you take on a ton of salary to move Zito in return for a prospective LOOGY, or trade him for a different bad contract. Cutting him, that makes no sense at all.

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      • Liem says:

        Trading Zito frees up a roster spot that can be used for a better starter–I think that’s Hurtlocker’s line of thought, which I agree with. Zito’s contract is a sunken cost. He’s going to cost the same amount whether he takes the mound (and loses) or is at home (and Surkamp pitches well). No one will trade anything for Zito at this point, so shopping him around is not going to work.

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      • LTG says:

        Who takes Zito in a trade? This is like Phillies fans dreaming Ibanez could have been traded.

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      • Guertez says:

        Some people just don’t understand simple economics. While no one is saying Zito is worth his contract, you don’t cut a guy who produced 2.1 and 2.2 WAR in the past two years and pay another player to replace him. He’s a suitable #5 or long-man/emergency starter that any team would die to have and would cost more money to replace.

        To trade Zito, if he turned into a 2-3 million dollar a year pitcher, there might be some value there. Sabean eats most of the cost or trades him for another bad contract in a different position.

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      • David K says:

        “This is like Phillies fans dreaming Ibanez could have been traded.”

        It’s also like Blue Jay fans wishing Vernon Wells was trad…..wait a minute, he was!

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      • GiantHusker says:

        There may be a lot of dumb GM’s in MLB, but none dumb enough to give anything for Zito, even if the Giants eat a huge chunk of his salary.

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    • SF 55 for life says:

      Barry Zito has a very precise warm up routine that he uses to get ready for starts. Not only do I think Zito would be unwilling to make a move to the pen but I also believe he is incapable of doing so.

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    • GiantHusker says:

      Irrelevant. Zito’s next $60 million is already owed.

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  8. Michael says:

    And yet, people think I’m crazy when I tell them that someone *is* going to regret giving Pujols a 10 year mega deal for his 32nd birthday. He’ll probably be worth it for the first 4-5 years, but the latter half will make the signing look horrible.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      Depends on the team. BOS is paying a handful of guys 50M this year to perform at replacement level combine … it isn;t limiting them. NYY overpays players continually, doesn’t hold them back.

      PHL has bad contracts, not holding them back and probably never will.

      A team like StL probably shouldn;t do it because then their two best players would both be on the wrong side of 35, and making the most money. The most amazing thing about Pujols, IMO, is thathe has produced over 200M in “surplus value”, not including ticket sales and things of that nature.

      BOS is showing that a team can absorb quite a few bad contracts if they have enough high producing young (low cost, team friendly contracts) players to balance it out.

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      • LTG says:

        BOS and NYY are not comparable to any other teams (except maybe the Mets) when it comes to the ability to absorb bad contracts. Those two teams are willing to spend inefficient money if it helps them win. The Phillies are not currently hampered by their bad contracts because they have been buoyed by young talent in the pen and in the outfield. This might change when Howard’s ill-gotten deal kicks in. The difference between the Phillies and the two AL East conglomerates is that the Phillies, so far, have been unwilling to cross the luxury tax threshold. At any rate, your counter-examples fail as such since 1) BOS and NYY are not comparable to other teams and 2) the Phillies are not yet on the wrong side of their real mistake.

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      • LTG says:

        Hmm… I think I was uncharitable to your post. Nevermind.

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      • sticky fingers says:

        Just because a club can absorb a bad contract doesn’t change the fact that …. it’s a bad contract. I don’t think having the ability to absorb it really justifies wasting your club’s money. Also, Boston and NYY are not going to be signing Pujols.

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  9. Steve says:

    I’m not sure it’s fair to dump the Zito and Rowand deals on Sabean. Magowan was, by all accounts, largely behind both of those deals and the front office has been a little more shrewd under Neukom. I say “a little more” because the deals given to Tejada and Huff were indefensible (though short). And the front office has been completely to blame for not telling Bochy to bench those guys whenever Bochy said he wanted a “veteran presence” in the lineup.

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    • SF 55 for life says:

      The Barry Zito deal was in all likelihood out of Sabean’s hands. I can’t really blame Sabean for it.

      The front office definitely applied some pressured on Sabean in the Rowand deal, but I still blame him mostly for it.

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    • GiantHusker says:

      Sabean is all too eager to take credit for the signings that worked out well; he has to take the heat for those that turned out horribly. If he had refused to sign Rowand or Zito and been fired because of it, he could easily have found another job.

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  10. CircleChange11 says:

    At the start of Rowand’s contract with the SFGs, who would his comps have been (WAR value, age, position, etc)? How did their careers play out?

    Be interesting to see.

    I’m guessing Rowand aged faster than the others (on average).

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    • DD says:

      This is on point. At the time of his free agency, the Phils were not sure if Victorino or Werth would be legit starting OFers for them going forward (boy oh boy, did they make the right call there). They were willing to go 3 or even 4 years with Rowand, but were unwilling to match the SF overpay because they felt Rowand was not an overly athletic player and would age poorly. This would force them to move him to left field at some point and he’d lose some his value. IIRC, the Phils were willing to go up to 4-$40 mil.

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    • Nim says:

      Wasn’t it just earlier this week that Dave was talking about how WAR shouldn’t be used as a predictive statistic? I had the same thoughts as you, CC: what would someone smart have looked at when trying to predict Rowand’s next few years?

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      • They did, but as I recall, the aging veteran scenario was almost a caveat to the proposition WAR shouldn’t be used. I’ll reiterate my comment at the time, it certainly was predictive a Tejada’s performance this year.

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  11. Jim says:

    As Rowand has been bad the last few years I’m curious what Rowand cost them in wins versus $ owed. If a Giant’s minor leaguer would had been just 1 win better per year would it still be cost effective paying that minor leaguer the MLB minimum for the years he would have been in the bigs as Rowand’s replacement? I only ask because as a White Sox fan I’m curious if the Sox should just cut their ties with Rios, eat that $, and live with De Aza or possibly Jordan Danks going forward.

    Hopefully this question makes sense.

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  12. dan woytek says:

    I don’t really care about his contract. He has the dirtiest stance in all of baseball history!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wWXZLs9-_sU&NR=1

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  13. Michael says:

    Whoever signs Pujols ( 32 years old in a few months) to an 8 year deal will regret it. just ask the Yankees how they feel about the new A-rod deal.

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  14. Larry says:

    I think you did have a fair point that the contract wasn’t absolutely ridiculous. However I think the most damning fact about the deal is that, as you hinted that, there was very little upside to be had. There didn’t seem to be much of a chance that he could outperform the deal. The best case scenario was that he would be worth it. Those kinds of deals rarely turn out well, right?

    Also, if the market rate per win was $4 million and he was a 3 win player (projected) and paid 12 million a year, that isn’t bad. But, being on the wrong side of 30 notwithstanding, shouldn’t the Giants have gotten a reduced yearly rate because the contract was for 5 years as opposed to 1 or 2?

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    • Fiveloko says:

      Zito and Rowand were miserable signings from day one, and they were all about Magowan insisting on doing a color-by-numbers rebranding of the club as the Bonds era ended. Zito was The Media Darling, and Rowand was The Gamer. Magowan stupidly paid each a painfully Glam Tax. Everyone here can crunch the numbers all they want, but the simple fact is, Magowan was bled for tens of miilions of extra dollars on both deals — for slightly-above-average players showing no signs of becoming anything more than slightly-above-average players — to change ticketholders’ notions of what the team was about.

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  15. K says:

    Seems Rowand also had a pretty darn high BABIP in 04 and 07.

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  16. If one considers the signing of both Zito and Rowand an attempt to change the subject and dissociate the team from the stigma Bonds had become for the Giants in 2006-8, it makes more sense. Given the expensive and private financing of what is now AT&T park and the attempt to fill seats to pay for that stadium, some poorly reasoned decisions were made. Such is the tyranny of the urgent or percieved urgent.

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  17. Oil Can Boyd says:

    For all those who blame sabean for the bad deals, his trade for keppinger has been terrific- he is the only Giant delivering clutch hits, including a rare HR to start the scoring today. It will be interesting to see what they do at 2B next year with F Sanchez coming back.

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    • Bhaakon says:

      Keppinger’s defense has been awful, and he’s not much with the bat. A couple of hits in high-leverage small sample does not a starter make.

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      • SF 55 for life says:

        Keppinger is a better hitter than he has shown with the Giants in a small sample. No, his defense isn’t good and he probably should be a platoon partner. The fact is though he is starting in place of absolutely terrible options. Emmanuel Burriss and Tejada were the second baseman before they signed Keppinger. Both of those guys are probably worth -1.0 WAR each. Keppinger is worth 2 wins more than that.

        The Giants gave up two pitchers who profile as middle relievers with the possible upside of pitching in late innings. The Keppinger deal was solid and mostly unspectacular. He will probably be back next year and will finish the year as Type B free agent, possibly netting the giants a comp pick if the system is still in place.

        The player the Giants should have gotten was Clint Barmes. He would have added about 2.5 WAR to the team already and would probably only have cost an extra C+ prospect such as Thomas Neal (the player they shipped to Cleveland for Orlando Cabrera).

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    • GiantHusker says:

      Keppinger, and all of the other mid-season pickups by Sabean (Beltran, Cabrera and Hall), have been total disasters, adding up to about 1 negative WAR.
      Keppinger might have been worth a little if he had been used properly, in a platoon with Fontenot at 2B (with Crawford remaining at SS).

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  18. James P. says:

    Sabean does deserve a lot of credit for the title last year, but at the same time luck played a good part in just them reaching the playoffs because of fluky performances to finish last season. However he also deserves the blame for this season. He seemed to believe that the flukiness from last year would magically carry over, and then because it didn’t he was forced to potentially heavily overpay for Beltran and they still can’t score runs.

    Sabean’s player development has been solid especially on the pitching side but had he not had the pressure placed on him to overpay for Zito and take a risk on Rowan the Giants may have just dominated the division this year.

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    • Bill says:

      The 2010 Giants give hope to all teams with less than stellar GM’s. Sabean hit a homerun on Huff, Ross, and Burell. Each of these guys have turned back into a pumpkin this year, but for one year everything broke right. They remind me of the ’93 Phillies – everyone’s career years lined up perfectly.

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    • DD says:

      IIRC, in the offseason Renteria wanted to return, but the Giants lowballed him with an offer like 1 yr/$1 mil. They decided they would be better off letting him go and getting Tejada for 6 times that amount. Both have been pretty bad, but this was a poor decision.

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  19. Fergie348 says:

    Seems to me that Sabean’s mid-season acquisitions have been better thought out and more effective over his term than the free agent acquisitions. I can’t really get on him for Zito, as it appears that ownership played an outsized role in that decision. His signing of aging veterans at speed positions has definitely hurt the Giants over the years (Marvin Bernard, Marquis Grissom, Omar Vizquel, in addition to Rowand) – it’s mostly been a station to station club with little team speed. That may be about to change if Gary Brown pans out. I think it makes sense in that ballpark to emphasize pitching, speed and defense and the more speed and on base guys they can get to compliment their young core players (Posey, Sandoval, Belt, etc.) the better. Ever since Bonds arrived, it’s been about the 3 run homer but that kind of thinking doesn’t play well in AT&T park. Maybe they’re starting to figure that out..

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  20. RéRé says:

    Bad idea alert: What if Kenny Williams and Sabes had a few drinks at Toots Shor’s and agreed to swap Adam Dunn for Barry Zito.

    Zito has 2 guaranteed years left totalling $46 mil (including both years’ salaries and the $7 mil buyout for 2014 according to baseball reference). He could guarantee as much as $57 mil if his option vests which is doubtful since he likely won’t get 200 innings in 2013. Dunn has 3 guaranteed years remaining totalling $44 million.

    Couldn’t either GM argue that taking a chance on someone else’s washed up property is a better financial bet than simply cutting their current player? Especially with SF’s need for offense? Zito looks at least a “little” better rounding out a ChiSox rotation which loses Buehrle this offseason and isn’t crowded with Cy contenders. Granted, Dunn’s defense doesn’t do the Giants any favors in left. But maybe Williams’ argues that Dunn isn’t as far removed from above average performance so is worth taking a risk in SF.

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