by Richard Van Zandt, BaseballEvolution.com
December 10, 2007
Here we go again. On successive days the Giants showed
that, despite their publicly professed desire to get younger and more athletic,
general manager Brian Sabean hasn’t lost his affinity for players on the wrong
side of 30.
On December 3, San Francisco inked former Cubs right-hander
Bobby Howry to a one-year deal valued at $2.75 million. Then the next day, the
club found its replacement for shortstop Omar Vizquel by signing free agent
Edgar Renteria to a two-year deal worth $18.5 million (the club holds a $10.5
million option for the 2011 season).
At face value, neither deal appears to be too great a risk,
since both are short-term deals. Given a return to form, Howry could help
solidify the back end of a shaky bullpen while Renteria instantly upgrades the
team’s offensive production at short. However, both deals fly in the face of
the Giants' supposed renewed emphasis on player development.
In the case of Howry, the Giants get a 35-year old reliever
who, in all probability, is on the downside of his career. Last season, in just
over 70 innings for Chicago, Howry posted an ERA of 5.35 and a 1.46 WHIP.
Hitters batted .309 against him and slugged .543. The latter mark, among all
pitchers with at least 60 innings compiled, ranked 265th out of 269.
He not only got hit, but he got hit hard. His career numbers
reveal a pitcher whose career likely peaked back in 2005 and is now in
It’s possible that Howry will turn it back around in 2009
and become a valuable bridge to closer Brian Wilson. What’s more probable,
though, is a continued downward spiral into oblivion. Part of what makes this
move so distressing is that the Giants will count on Howry as the primary 8th
inning setup man. So not only is he likely to get lit up, but in that featured
role, he will probably cost the team a few wins along the way as well.
The other distressing part of this move is that Howry will be taking innings and a roster spot that could
otherwise be used by younger, more promising pitchers like Kelvin Pichardo,
Henry Sosa or Waldis Joaquin. Sergio Romo showed last year he was quite
well equipped to handle the role that Howry has been handed, but will now likely
pitch less important innings.
There is no arguing that Renteria’s acquisition immediately
makes the Giants stronger at shortstop, especially at the plate. Last
season, Giants shortstops combined to bat just .228 with one home run and 31 runs
driven in. Renteria, meanwhile, is a career .290 hitter who slugged 10 long balls
and drove home 55 runs last year for Detroit. He’s also a five-time all-star and
has twice been awarded a Gold Glove.
It certainly isn’t a move without risks, however. Renteria, 33, saw his average slip 62 points last year with the Tigers while his
on-base and slugging each suffered huge dips as well. Additionally, scouts say
he has lost a step (at least), and statistics indicate his defense has slipped
from his prime.
For his part, Renteria believes his play will improve with
a return to the National League, where
he says he feels more comfortable. The numbers seem to bear him out on
that. He has played just two of his 13 seasons in the junior circuit, and both
times he has put up sub-par numbers. With Boston, Renteria posted
a batting line of .276/.335/.385; with Detroit, he batted
.270/.317/.382. Those numbers are across-the-board lower than he typically posted
after joining St. Louis in 1999 and well below the marks of .332/.390/.470 he
recorded for Atlanta in 2007.
Defensively, his play seems to have suffered in the American
League as well, according to
John Dewan’s +/- system, recording a -11 for while
playing for the Red Sox in ’05 and a -9 last year for the Tigers. Playing for
National League teams, Renteria put up +/- numbers of +9 in 2004, +6 in 2006, and
–1 in 2007.
It’s certainly conceivable that a return to the senior
circuit, where he is more relaxed, could result in a bounce-back year, and he’s
not so deep into his 30s that the team should expect a huge decline before the
end of the 2010 season. His agent prompted even more optimism, stating that his
client had lost 10 pounds this winter. “There’s no excuse for what happened in
the American League,” Renteria said when his signing was announced, “but it
might be why I’m so excited to get back to the National League.”
He very well could earn his $18 million over the next two
years. He won’t even be receiving a raise, instead earning as much this season and next
($9 M per year) as he did in each of the last two years. At the very least, his
contract should not wind up an albatross around Sabean’s neck (not that there’d
be any room next to Barry Zito’s). But as was the case with
Aaron Rowand last winter, the issue is not so much what kind of production
you can expect to receive from Renteria or whether it will be worth the
financial expenditure, but rather the issue is what effect his signing will have
on other, younger players in the organization and the supposed renewed emphasis
This move in fact reeks of the same ‘ol, same ‘ol, we’ve
become all too accustomed to in the last half dozen years of the Sabean
administration: dipping into the free agent pool for experience over youth in a
futile attempt to grasp the ring. Only this time, Barry Bonds isn’t hanging
around in the middle of the lineup.
New managing general partner Bill Neukom has said he wants
to return the team to its winning ways as soon as possible, and Renteria could be
a positive addition to a contending team. However, despite possessing a strong
1-2 punch in Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, the Giants are far from contending even
with Renteria. The team is seriously lacking punch in the middle of the lineup.
Without serious additions, the Giants are likely to wind up near the bottom of the
league in runs scored, just as they did in 2008. Unless they find some way to
reel in C.C. Sabathia on a hometown discount and then turn around and deal Cain
for a couple of big, cost-effective bats, it’s highly unrealistic that San
Francisco will be challenging for the NL West title next year.
to Part Two
Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Richard resides in San Francisco, California and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.