Urban: Vizquel is vital to Giants’ rebuilding process

Heading into the Hot Stove season after the club’s disappointing 2006 campaign, the Giants pledged to get younger and insisted that Barry Bonds would not be the centerpiece of the 2007 squad.

What they didn’t say is that by “younger,” they meant, “younger than the cast of ‘Golden Girls.’” And by “centerpiece,” they meant, “unifying force.”

Thus, it was more than understandable that a mass rolling of eyes among fans accompanied the announcement — made in concert with general manager Brian Sabean’s contract extension — that 2008 would bring a fresh, new way of doing business.

Also understandable would be any rolling of eyes accompanying the news that the Giants are bringing back shortstop Omar Vizquel for another year. After all, the man will be 41 in June and his batting average dropped from .295 in 2006 to .247 this past season.

How, fans have every right to wonder, does this suggest anything other than the old way of doing business?

The answer to that question is pretty simple, actually. The re-signing of Omar, despite his age and apparently declining offensive ability, is as clear a sign as any that management is indeed committed to changing the general dynamic of the team.

Without question, the Giants will be a younger team next year, even with Vizquel’s presence boosting the median age — mostly because Bonds won’t be around to boost it further. But also because the team is going to have to count on some of their kids, and for any of those kids to have a fighting chance, they’ll have to follow Omar’s — not Barry’s — lead.

Forget for a moment that Vizquel remains one of the top defensive shortstops in the game. And that strong defense up the middle is a must if the Giants are going to take advantage of their only visible strength, an above-average starting rotation.

Forget that Vizquel, his 2007 numbers aside, remains a pretty tough out (48 strikeouts in 567 plate appearances) and still handles the bat very well (14 sacrifice bunts) — two more musts for a 2008 team that figures to be short on pop.

What’s important to remember about Omar is the satisfied smile on his face after he wows you with a diving play in the hole. The laughter he brings into the dugout after a rare home run. The all-out hustle with which he plays the game.

Omar is all about passion, and with Bonds’ indifferent influence out of the way, Omar’s passion will be more infectious than ever. It’s what the Giants’ youngsters need to be exposed to every day, and if it comes from a 41-year-old, all the more powerful and persuasive.

A fresh, new way of doing business? Absolutely. Firing Bonds was a case of addition by subtraction. Rehiring Omar is a case of addition by NOT subtracting. Smart move.

Mychael Urban is the author of “Aces: The Last Season On The Mound With The Oakland A’s Big Three — Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito” and a writer for MLB.com. He also hosts the weekend edition of “Sportsphone 680” on KNBR (680 AM).

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