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Giants will release Pat Burrell unless they don't

"Rigo Beltran is okay, I guess, though I'm not sure where he fits in our 'pen, but ... wait, who?"
"Rigo Beltran is okay, I guess, though I'm not sure where he fits in our 'pen, but ... wait, who?"

Last night, there was a good, old-fashioned freakout. It's been too long. The story was that the Giants were planning to release Pat Burrell and demote Brandon Belt to make room for Carlos Beltran on the 40-man and 25-man rosters, respectively.

Belt is never going to play, so that wasn't the reason for the freakout. It's awful that he isn't going to get that chance, but he was never going to get at-bats. Let him get at-bats so he's ready for 2013, because if he can't play over an Aubrey Huff with a sub-.300 on-base percentage, he's never playing over Aubrey Huff. He probably will be the hitter sent down today.

So why the freakout over Burrell? He's a popular guy, sure, and I'm sure he's the biological father of some of the readers here, even if they don't really know that yet. But he's just a fifth outfielder -- a low-average, master of the three true outcomes. What he did last year will never be forgotten, but I'm okay with him on the bench. Break out the wOBA charts if you must, but he's an atrocious defender, enough to break a tie between him and Ross, Torres, or Schierholtz.

Here's my best explanation, then, for the freakout:

This site, myself included, is filled with people who probably take the Giants a little too seriously.

Haha, just kidding. That can't be it. Here's the real explanation:

Over the next two seasons, the Giants will pay Aaron Rowand and Pat Burrell combined $25 million. If they release Rowand, they pay $25 million dollars. If they release Burrell, they pay $25 million dollars. This is what a sunk cost is. The Giants know this. Dave Roberts got paid millions of dollars to announce post-game shows for the Red Sox in 2008.

The question, then, is who would help the Giants more as a fifth outfielder? The money's gone. Poof. It ain't coming back. By allocating more of the money to one of the two players, you don't get a better player. So look at both players and how they fit on the current roster. The Giants have:

Cody Ross*
Andres Torres*
Carlos Beltran*
Nate Schierholtz

The ones with asterisks are the ones who can play center. Well, that's not quite true. Nate Schierholtz can play center too, the Giants have just never tried him there. Ross and Torres are center fielders. Beltran isn't any more, but he could cover in a pinch. So for the Giants' fifth outfielder, what's more important?

  1. A player whose value is entirely dependent on playing center field
  2. A player whose value is entirely dependent on hitting home runs and taking the occasional walk

It's not a trick question. They're making a combined $25 million no matter who you release. They both have their very specific uses. But which skill set do the Giants need?

Burrell, no question, is a better fit. Rowand is done as a hitter -- almost nothing stabilizes quicker than strikeouts and walks, and over his past 633 plate appearances, he's struck out 136 times and walked 26 times, hitting .233 with 13 home runs. He can't hit. You can believe in his last 10 at-bats. I'll believe in his last 600.

But if the Giants get rid of Burrell, we're going to see a whole lot of Rowand late-inning pinch-hitting roles. He'd be the guy, the bat off the bench. Venters, Kimbrel, Madson, Bell, Adams ... Rowand. Whiteside bloops a single against Huston Street, and ... Rowand. He'd be the outfielder equivalent of carrying three catchers.

It wouldn't be a crippling move to keep Rowand over Burrell, and it wouldn't undo the improvements of the Beltran trade. It's just disappointing because the Giants wouldn't stay as good as they could have today, never mind the sentimental attachment to one of the reasons the Giants even made the playoffs in 2010.

Strip away the emotion and the subjectivity, and it's still pretty clear that Burrell makes for a better 25th man on the Giants than Rowand. I'm not saying Rowand needs to go (just hinting!) but if it's a choice between Burrell and Rowand, I don't see how that's a choice at all.