Bob Howry was a typical signing by the Cleveland Indians. Howry pitched for the Red Sox in 2003 and struggled with right elbow problems. He ended up on the 60-day DL after undergoing season-ending surgery at the beginning of July to repair his flexor tendon.
The Indians swooped in and signed the damaged righty to a minor league deal after the 2003 season hoping it would pay off.
Obviously, it did.
The All-Aught Indians relief pitcher #4 is Bob Howry.
Howry was a solid relief pitcher prior to his stint in Cleveland. In his first full season with the White Sox in 1999, he served as their closer and saved 28 games in 34 chances. Keith Foulke replaced Howry as closer after struggling early in the 2000. Howry rebounded in the set-up role and finished the year with a solid 3.17 ERA in 71 innings. He continued to be an innings hog in 2001 and the start of 2002, when the White Sox traded him to the Red Sox at the deadline.
The 2003 season was a wash because of the elbow injury, and Howry turned to the Tribe to rehabilitate him.
Howry spent the first month of the 2004 season rehabbing the elbow in extended spring training. He started throwing off the mound for the first time just before the Indians left Winter Haven for Cleveland. He made his first appearance for Buffalo on May 11, and after proving his arm was once again healthy, was called up by the Tribe on June 29th. He ended the season 4-2, with eight holds and a paltry 2.74 ERA. He would pitch in 37 games and 42 2/3 innings, while striking out 39 and walking only 12. He was exactly what the bullpen-starved Indians needed.
For as good as Howry was in 2004, he was that much better in 2005. The Indians had avoided arbitration with Howry by signing him to a one-year, $900,000 deal. Howry was banking on a big year for a big paydayin 2006, and that’s exactly what he got.
He may have been the best relief pitcher in baseball that season. He went 7-4 with 29 holds and a 2.47 ERA in 79 games pitched. He held opponents to a .191 batting average against, but Howry saved his best for last. He pitched in 37 games after the All-Star break with a 0.99 ERA. He gave up only four earned runs, which included both a 13-inning scoreless streak and a 21-game streak in which he didn’t give up an earned run.
The Indians pen may have been the best in the league during that 2005 season, anchored by Howry and closer Bob Wickman. David Riske, Rafael Betancourt and Arthur Rhodes also had stellar seasons in leading the Indians to a 93-69 record, and a near playoff appearance.
Howry had more than proven his mettle with the Tribe. In the 1 1/2 seasons, he went 11-6, with 37 holds, 87 strikeouts and a 2.61 ERA. More than that, he had closer experience, and had proven that his arm was sound.
The Indians, coming off a run at the playoffs, had an opportunity to sign Howry. Howry, however, was looking for a three-year deal between $10.5 and $12 million, and the Indians decided to take a chance at signing a bigger target for slightly more money. Closer Bob Wickman was also a free agent, so Shapiro made a full-court press for closers Tom Gordon or B.J. Ryan. If they spent a big chunk of change for Howry, they wouldn’t be in play for two players that they must have valued more because of their ninth inning experience.
It seems silly thinking now, and truthfully, was silly thinking then.
Howry was the first to sign, heading to the Cubs with a 3-year, $12 million deal. He continued to eat up innings (four straight season with 70+ innings, including an 84 inning season), would spot save, and earn every penny of his deal.
What about Ryan and Gordon?
Well, Ryan visited Cleveland with his wife and received the royal treatment from Shapiro and the Dolans. Ryan then did what so many others had done before. He used the Indians to drive up his asking price, and eventually signed a mammoth deal with the Blue Jays to the tune of five years and nearly $50 million.
Gordon also signed a big-ticket, 3-year, $18 million dollar deal with the Philadelphia Phillies.
The Indians re-signed closer Bob Wickman, as well as relievers Danny Graves and Steve Karsay, and acquired Guillermo Mota from the Red Sox in the Coco Crisp deal. In other words, Bob Howry’s loss turned into a mammoth hole that the Indians couldn’t fill.
Hindsight is always 20/20, and the Indians likely should have signed Howry to some sort of deal to either close or set-up, but they didn’t. Ryan and Gordon pitched well in 2006, but both turned out to be busts over the length of their deals. It turns out that Howry was the best deal after all was said and done.
The Indians may have paid the ultimate price, but Bob Howry had already earned his place on the All-Aught Indians.