Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Giants Free Agent Profile: Aubrey Huff

When I think of the 2010 World Champion Giants, I think of Aubrey Huff. In his first season with the team, Huff always felt like the leader, the man in the center. After all, he hit 3rd most of the season. He led the team in most offensive categories. On a team that had mostly hackers, Huff and Torres (and later Burrell) added an element of patience at the plate that hasn't existed in the SF lineup since, well, maybe since Barry Bonds left. He was on fire most of the first half, dropped off slightly in the 2nd, but was still good, and had some big hits in the postseason, notably his HR in Game 4 of the World Series. Now the Giants have to decide whether Huff is worth bringing back, because he is likely to get some attractive offers from other teams.

Huff had by far his best season as a major leaguer in 2010. Huff came up to the majors in 2000, and from 2002-2004, he was consistently good offensively for Tampa Bay, but his value was hurt by poor defense. He then had a down year in 2005, was traded midseason in 2006 to Houston, and had a mediocre season for Baltimore in 2007. Huff then had a great season for the Orioles in 2008, with a .387 wOBA. After a terrific 2008, and going into a walk year in 2009, Huff was suddenly horrible. A lifetime .287 hitter at the time, his average dropped to .241. His walk and strikeout numbers stayed about the same, but for the first time since 2001 he slugged below .400 (his career slugging at that point was .483, a hundred points higher than his 2009 slugging). It was a disaster for Huff, and it looked like 2008 had been a fluke. After all, he had been going downhill since 2004, and maybe he finally reached the bottom. Then he ended up with the Giants, had a remarkable 2010 season, and now we are left to wonder if 2009 was the fluke year.

Looking at his 2010 stats, one thing clearly stands out: Huff was more patient than he's ever been. His career high 12.4% walk rate led to a career high .385 OBP, and that mixed with a few other things gave him his career highs in wOBA (.385) and WAR (5.7). In his seasons in Tampa, Huff got on base at an above average rate, but it wasn't anything spectacular (.360-.370). Huff's slugging in 2010 slightly exceeded his career average, but it wasn't as high as some of the power numbers he put up earlier in the decade.

Is it really possible that a 33 year old veteran was able to suddenly become a more patient, better hitter out of nowhere? It certainly isn't normal, especially on the heels of such a massive the previous year. But another part of Huff's 2010 season is even less normal, and that was his very competent defense. Huff was bad defensively pretty much his whole career. This year, he was asked to play 1st base, left field, and right field, and played them all without hurting the team. Interestingly, Huff's buddy Pat Burrell also had a fine defensive year, while holding a reputation as a poor fielder. I don't know whether we can expect either to have as a good a season next year in that department. Should Huff return to the Giants, there is a question of where he would play. His best position is 1st base, but the Giants do have to keep Brandon Belt in mind for 2011, even if he starts in AAA. Huff showed in 2010 that he can move around, but it's not ideal at all to have him in right field if the Giants can help it. Either way, if the Giants want Belt to possibly play first base, the outfield corner spots would have to be flexible for Huff to move there.

I think it's clear the Giants would like to bring Huff back, and that he would like to come back. But Huff would also like to cash in on his career year, and there's a certain limit that the Giants will have to set on what they'll give him. I think more important than the actual money is the length of the contract. It simply can't be more than 2 years. You don't want to make that kind of commitment to an older player who has had years of failure in the past, especially when you have a young player who looks about ready to take over his primary position. But it would make no sense for Huff to agree to just a 1 year deal. We can only hope that Huff's desire to stay with the club that brought him so much joy this year will be able to sway him just enough towards taking a little less. But if a noticeably better offer is on the table, the player, quite fairly, almost always takes it. I worry that tempting contract will be on the table. But if it is, the Giants would do very well to say no, and not match it.

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