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Giants Sign Renteria and Howry: Youth Movement Bogus?
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 decline: 

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.

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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 on youth.

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.

Continue 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 richard@baseballevolution.com.

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