Webster’s defines the term "sunk cost" as…
Yeah. That pretty much nails it. The Giants owed Dave Roberts $6.5M for 2009. He was coming off an injury-riddled season in 2008, and there wasn’t a lot of room for him, even as a fifth outfielder. He would get $6.5M if he played, and he would get it if he didn’t. He would get his full salary if he were a sixth outfielder whose presence weakened the bench by eliminating a middle infielder’s spot, and he would get that money if he were announcing for the Red Sox. Sunk cost. The Giants decided to pay him to announce for the Red Sox, and it made the Giants a better team.
Here’s how you determine if a sunk cost should be released or not: take Player X, and pretend he isn’t on the roster. Then imagine Player X’s agent coming to you and saying this:
Hey, I have Player X, and he loves fog. Can’t get enough. His kid’s middle name is Fog. Loves the fog. Willing to rearrange his live to live in the fog. Also, he has a fetish for monuments shaped like fire hose nozzles. Has a tattoo of Coit Tower on his butt. Don’t ask. So he wants to play in San Francisco, and he’s willing to do so for only $1M per year. What do you think?
So pretend that Barry Zito isn’t on the roster. The fifth spot would be a scrum between Jeff Suppan, Ryan Vogelsong, and Dan Runzler, among others. It wouldn’t be especially inspiring. If Barry Zito’s agent were to come to the Giants with a 1/$1M offer, the Giants would trip over themselves to agree to it. He has value to the roster as it is currently constructed, so there’s no reason to pay his entire salary for him to go away. That doesn't mean the Giants wouldn't trade him if a team were willing to pick up a chunk of his remaining salary, but it's why releasing him would be silly.
This gets us to Aaron Rowand. He’s been frustrating to watch, especially last year. His defense is good, not great, but his reluctance to play the corners – considering his starting job is gone, and it ain’t coming back – is a little strange. But I always felt like he was a good fifth outfielder, so there was no reason to pay $24M for him to be on someone else’s bench when he could help the Giants’ bench.
But here’s a Rowandless roster mock-up:
C – Posey, Whiteside
1B – Huff, Ishikawa
INF – Tejada, Sanchez, Sandoval, DeRosa, Fontenot
OF – Burrell, Torres, Ross, Schierholtz (with DeRosa available as well)
If Rowand’s agent came to you to say his client would join that roster for $1M, are you even interested? It would mean that one of the above players would go away (probably Ishikawa) or that the Giants would carry 11 pitchers. Is it worth it? I used to think there was no way Rowand would ever leave the Giants during his contract because he would always be worth a roster spot. With Ross’s ability to play center – and Schierholtz can’t be that bad there in a pinch – I’m not sure Rowand is worth that spot now.
This isn’t to say that Rowand should be released right away. There’s a chance that another team would pick up $3M or $4M or his remaining contract, which would mean the Giants would save some cash, and that would obviously be preferable to releasing him. But if that team doesn’t exist, there’s a really, really good chance that the Giants are better off without Rowand than with him, and that’s ignoring what he makes.
It’s hard to see how he starts the season with the Giants. Another team has to want him for $2M per season, and the Giants should be thrilled to recoup that $4M from their sunk cost. If not? Maybe he could be released, go to the Rays, and win a World Series. Hey, it worked for the Giants last year.