SAN FRANCISCO -- Giants general manager Brian Sabean can check the bullpen off his to-do list heading into next week's winter meetings in Las Vegas.
San Francisco took another step to bolster its bullpen Wednesday, agreeing a $2.75 million, one-year contract with free-agent reliever Bobby Howry.
The Giants had been looking for a reliable right-handed reliever to be their primary setup man and filled the spot with Howry, who was declined salary arbitration by the Chicago Cubs on Monday. San Francisco already signed lefty reliever Jeremy Affeldt last month, and Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy figure those two veterans will help bring the younger pitchers along.
"I'm sure it's a comfort to Boch," Sabean said. "This was a big part of the puzzle and showed how much these guys respected our interest and took the punch to sign with us. The sooner the better that the organization has an idea of what's going on and the players are more comfortable."
Now, Sabean will turn his attention to a "small group of position players we have a chance on," he said.
"We're in the hopes of doing something this week on the free-agent position player end," Sabean said.
The 35-year-old Howry, 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, is returning to his professional baseball roots. A fifth-round draft choice by the Giants in 1994, he spent four years in the team's farm system before being traded to the Chicago White Sox in a nine-player swap that brought right-handers Danny Darwin and Roberto Hernandez and lefty Wilson Alvarez to San Francisco on July 31, 1997.
"I didn't make it past Double-A before I was traded off," Howry said. "It's good to be back where I started."
And he is welcoming a fresh start.
Howry is looking to bounce back from a down year. He went 7-5 with a 5.35 ERA in 72 appearances and 70 2/3 innings for the Cubs in 2008, his 11th major league season.
"I know after last season, there may be some people out there who don't think I'm up to the role I've done most of my career in setting up," Howry said. "I look at it as I had an off year. I expect this next year to be more up to par of what I've done. I struggled last year with being consistent with mechanics, trying to find that smooth place where it's consistent all the time. I wasn't as sharp as normal."
Sabean and Bochy are confident he'll be his old reliable self on the mound again.
"The big thing with Bobby is been there and done it," Sabean said. "You can't walk away from the experience. You can't walk away from the fact that he's done it. ... No question he's going to return to form and be a valuable cog."
San Francisco had a hard time getting from its starting pitcher to closer Brian Wilson last season, the Giants' fifth straight missing the playoffs and fourth losing campaign in a row. The team's relievers posted a 4.45 ERA in 2008 and gave up 62 homers -- the third-most in the NL, while pitching the fourth-fewest innings at 487 1/3.
Both Affeldt and Howry could help close games, too.
"Along with Jeremy, it makes us a terrific bullpen and a bullpen we're going to have all the confidence of the world in," Bochy said. "It's going to help to have that kind of experience down there at the end of the ballgame."
Howry can earn an additional $500,000 based on games, getting $100,000 each for 55, 60, 65, 70 and 75 appearances. He can earn $1 million based on games finished: $100,000 for 45, $200,000 for 50, $300,000 for 55 and $400,000 for 60.