Monday, January 11, 2010

I'll Huff and I'll Puff: Giants Sign Aubrey Huff for $3M

As reported by ExtraBaggs, Chronicle, and sfgiants.com, the Giants are expected to sign Aubrey Huff to a contract pending a physical. Baggarley and the Chron reports that it is for $3M and one year. No indication where he will play, will have to wait for the Giants press conference to announce this, probably tomorrow.

But that hasn't stopped the speculation on where he might play. Obviously, with his experience playing 1B, 3B, and OF (mostly RF), he's another flexible cog in the lineup who is expected to supply left-handed power. He's usually been a key RBI producer for most teams he's been on, and that's what has kept him in the lineup despite his poor defense.

There has also been speculation on what this means for Travis Ishikawa, since Huff was a 1B/DH last season for Baltimore then Detroit. And, de riguer, the usual hand twisting over Sabean not being fit to be our GM.

Giants Thoughts

Where to start? First, this is a great deal. $3M gamble on a proven hitter who had a bad 2009 (and 2007 as some like to note) but even he at his current apparent skill level is probably one of the better hitters on the 2010 Giants, which people forget is the main point, not that Huff is just a shadow of his former self. Bill James project that he'll hit .267/.334/.445/.780 with 20 HR (though now reduced by AT&T) and that would be good in the Giants lineup. And he is a career .282/.340/.472/.812 hitter with 203 HR. His strikeout rate supports a continuation of a high batting average, as it has mainly been under the 15% that you want hitters at or below, and he also walks a lot to boot, and have pushed that rate up in recent years, though his strikeout rate has gone up as well, to poor levels last year.

His 2009 was affected greatly by playing in Detroit, which was one of the extreme pitcher's parks in the majors when it first opened but has moderated since then as their hitters figure out the park (much like AT&T in its early years, and it still greatly affects LHH) but appears to still affect players new to it. He still hit .253/.321/.405/.725 in Baltimore with 13 HR before moving on to Detroit where his HR/FB ratio fell from 9.7% to 6.5%.

In addition, he suffered some some extreme bad luck on the road in 2009, with a BABIP of .245 where his road BABIP was .295 for his career. However, some of that might be a decline in his abilities, as his road BABIP was .274 where his career is .290. However, that is mostly a Detroit effect as his home BABIP in Baltimore was .297, which is right in line with his career numbers, it was his elevated strikeout rate that contributed to his offensive decline with Baltimore.

All this suggest that Huff might not be on his last legs but could have a comeback offensively. Particularly if he doesn't play that much against LHP, which for some reason he played proportionally more against in 2009, another reason why his numbers overall were down, as he is not a great hitter against LHP, though OK for a LHH.

Defensively, he's actually much better at 1B than 3B (though still slightly negative), so the odds are that he'll be playing at 1B mostly for the Giants as Sabean said that they want to keep Sandoval at 3B. Of course, with Ishikawa also a LHH and 1B, Travis probably will not see a lot of starting time in 2010 or, as some speculated, will be released at some point. Huff is also capable of playing in the OF, but mostly poorly in RF.

I think this move saves Ishikawa as a reserve on the team whereas if we had signed LaRoche, Ishikawa's days were probably numbered. The Giants need a backup who can take over for Huff if he is really done for his career or if he struggles too long adjusting to AT&T and a new team. In addition, obviously Huff is not the answer long-term at 1B and the Giants don't really have an option at 1B in the minors close, though Thomas Neal with a strong season in AA could put his name in play and Bowker could always move there too. And Ishikawa is much stronger defensively than Huff at 1B, as OK Huff is there defensively (UZR is only slightly negative at 1B in limited play).

Huff looks like he'll be our #3 hitter now, having done the best in that lineup position during his career, though the Giants could put him 5th and DeRosa 3rd. With a relatively high BA, high OBP, plus high SLG, that makes sense. Looks like the lineup will be Sanchez 2nd, Huff 3rd, Sandoval 4th, DeRosa 5th is relatively set, maybe swapping Huff and DeRosa, possibly with Rowand leading off (for now). That leaves Renteria, Schierholtz/Bowker, and Posey to bat 6/7/8, probably with the RF 6th, then Renteria and Posey batting 7/8 depending on the situation.

Using the Bill James projections, this Giants lineup is estimated to produce 4.63 runs scored per game. With last year's pitching and fielding producing a defense of 3.77 runs allowed per game, and assuming they can do the same in 2010, the Giants would have a 95 win season, and be a very strong contender for the NL West title.

I also see a lot of shifting around that might happen. When Sandoval rests, I can see Huff playing 3B against RHP for sure, else Uribe. Huff has been great hitting against RHP during his career, and he did OK against them in 2009 for Baltimore. If Schierholtz or Bowker fail to win RF, Huff could start instead in RF if Ishikawa does enough to beat out Schierholtz or Bowker. Obviously if Huff fails, Ishikawa would be there to take over but if Bowker does well enough, he could take LF, push DeRosa to 3B, and Sandoval to 1B.

There are a lot of fallback positions the Giants could take and not take a huge hit in the lineup should any of our new additions or any of our young potential starters fail to produce. I think that this balances improved offensive production with giving opportunities to our young prospects to succeed or fail.

I would have preferred going with the young prospects, but the Giants management is focused more on continuing the gains they made last season and improving in 2010 relative to 2009 in order to greatly improve the odds of competing for the NL West division title. I think that Ishikawa, when including his stellar defense, would provide as much production at 1B as Huff. But at $3M, Huff is not that expensive and Ishikawa, as much as he produced last year, there are still question marks that, if unanswered, could spell another disastrous year of production from 1B.

Now Giants management can focus on signing our arbitration eligible players and perhaps sign one or two to contract extensions (hopefully Lincecum and maybe Wilson or Sanchez). Also, perhaps they can sign Sandoval to a nice long-term extension going into his free agent years, that would be good.

15 comments:

  1. So much for the rebuild that you've been saying that Sabean is working on. Looks like we are back to settling for aging veterans on the decline again. Another 2 year extension is undoubtedly warranted.

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  2. I'm just repeating myself, because you repeat yourself: open your eyes, the Giants are rebuilding, the whole pitching staff is pretty much rebuilt, and in the lineup we have Sandoval and maybe (and eventually) Posey and Schierholtz/Bowker.

    All you do is bring this up again and again, so I'm forced to bring up again and again that no team rebuilds without signing up vets to fill in the gaps in their team.

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  3. Other than Sandoval and at some point Posey, where is the rebuild? Everyone that has been brought in is an aging veteran on the decline. Perhaps you're just igniring it, but there is a very persistent pattern here.

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  4. What you are ignoring are Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez, Bumgarner, Wilson, Romo, Runzler, Valdez, Hinshaw, Joaquin. Half the team are not only young but homegrown. There are very few teams built with so many of their young.

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  5. Boof, I agree with you that it seems like the "same ol', same ol'" for the Giants management this off-season... signing aging veterans instead of giving their minor leaguers a chance.

    Except for a few points:

    1. The "aging veterans" they've signed this off-season have been ONE YEAR contracts, and for the reasonable amounts (relatively speaking!) of $3 M and $6 M. They are not repeating the mistakes of the past, like Renteria, Rowand, Zito, and locking themselves into multi-year contracts with these guys.

    If the new free agents turn out to be a bust, such as Randy Johnson -- I'm sorry, people, I know he's a Hall-Of-Famer, but the Giants overpaid for what they got: 8 wins and an ERA near 5.00 -- then they're only "stuck" with them for one year.

    2. And, by signing these guys for only one year, they're not blocking young talent from the minors for season after season after season. IF some new hot stud develops quicker than they thought (like hopefully Posey or Neal) then they can bring them up NEXT YEAR. And it gives these minor leaguers a chance to develop more in the minors. No great loss.

    The Giants were rated something like 3rd or 4th out of all major league teams for their minor league system. They have a LOT of talent down there that will be ready in 1-3 years. Signing some free agents to play for them in the meantime, for 1 season, is not a problem in my book!

    3. Everyone is complaining that the Giants aren't giving their minor leaguers a chance. Who? Who are we talking about down at AAA or AA who is ready to come up and make a difference RIGHT NOW? I'm waiting! :-) Other than Bumgarner and Posey -- who, if my memory serves me are both on the roster and Sabean has all but said both will be on the team in '10 -- the Giants don't have any superstars ready to go right now.

    Arguably, Ishikawa, Torres, Velez, Schierholtz and Bowker deserve more of a chance this season. I myself have said that I am fans of the speed that Torres and Velez bring to the team and I hope/pray that Schierholtz can continue to develop into the hitter that he seems to be in very brief spurts.

    But these guys all had fairly decent opportunities last season (and some of them, before last season) and put up the kind of offensive numbers that resulted in the Giants being very-nearly-last in all offense categories last season. Numbers like a .245 BA with 5 HR is not impressive, even in only 150 ABs or whatever.

    Aside from GFUE (Giants' Fans Unreasonable Expectations), no one in MLB is expecting any of the names I mentioned two paragraphs ago to be anything other than average to below-average major leaguers.

    4. And, finally, most of those names ARE expected to make the team this season. They'll be around, and will have some playing time to prove themselves. Given Bochy's penchant to have a different starting lineup nearly every single day -- he had 141 different starting lineups last season in 162 games!!!! -- I'm sure they'll all get at least a few starts. We'll see what they can do, hopefully.

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  6. OGC, you've been touting the same names for the last few years now and the cast never changes. Again, when you have player after player on the bad side of 30 added every year, It's hard to buy this rebuild that you keep touting. It's just not happening in earnest. You can keep touting the company line, but we all can see what's happening.

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  7. Same $3M, same at 1st base. Ryan Garko is younger than Aubrey Huff, and Garko projects a better hitter than Huff ...

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  8. I'm also the one saying that rebuilding takes some years to do and that you have to be patient with it, that it was leading up to good things, like winning with great pitching and defense even if the hitting is not so good.

    I'm also about the only Giants blogger who has been saying that better times are coming and they came last year.

    I'm also the only blogger who said that the Giants could win in the high 80's whereas most thought that they would be lucky to be .500, at best. I said the Giants better be .500, that I would be unhappy with .500, that we should do better than that.

    Again, since you seem to be deaf in your old age, Boof, no rebuild takes place without adding veterans to fill your gaps. The more important thing is who are your major stars leading the way to the future? Are they the young and homegrown or are they the hired guns?

    Few hired guns teams win it all, you need to ride the backs of your young studs, and we have a number of them now, Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez, Wilson, Sandoval, and hopefully Posey and Bumgarner.

    You may buy the marketing spin that the Giants have given about Rowand, Renteria, and Johnson, but it's been clear for a number of years now that the future of the Giants are their pitching. I've been saying that since Bonds left and the newspaper columnists wondered aloud who would lead the Giants now? It was clear to me then and now that pitching was our key, and it was last season and it will be for the foreseeable future.

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  9. Huff and Garko are not the same, though I like Garko a lot. Huff is a plus hitter against RHP, who we face the most. Garko was only plus against LHP, which we don't see nearly as much, plus Huff is a much better defensive player than Garko.

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  10. Yes, the Giants improved last year, but do you really define better times as a 3rd place finish in your division?

    Rebuilding is not a parade of washed up veterans like we've seen over the course of Sabean's administration. It's settling for a bucketful of mediocrity and hoping something good will happen......like last year...... a 3rd place finish.

    I'd much rather see the front office use their resources to build a real competitive team that has a chance to win the World Series, not one that might have a chance to sneak in to the playoffs via the wild card if luck breaks right. It's the same thinking that got us not to sign Vlad when he was available and it's happening over and over again. You're either not seeing it of refuse to recognize it.

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  11. Boof, you can look at it as a 3rd place finish if you like, because all you care about is bad mouthing Sabean. You can't run before you walk, you can't walk before you crawl.

    Here is how I see it: the team improved 16 games from 2008 to 2009, and while they may have finished 3rd, both Colorado and LA has lost significant players who contributed to their success in 2009, with no clear replacements. LA did well, but lost Wolf, among others. Colorado should have only won 90 and lost Marquis if I recall right.

    We have added to our lineup and should break 90 wins in 2010. If you refuse to accept that the team rebuilding comes in stages of development, then you don't understand how a team rebuilds.

    I've challenged you on this one before: show me a team that hasn't signed up vets to rebuild. You will find that there hasn't been one.

    I think the Giants are willing to spend the bucks, the problem has been that players either didn't want to play here (Teixiera and Bay) or they simply weren't available via free agency, so you get the next best things, which sometimes work and sometimes don't.

    The key thing, which you refuse to recognize is that our pitching staff is the future of our team and worrying so much about the offense being good is useless worry, as long as they reach average, they will be good enough for our pitching.

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  12. By the time this team has been 'rebuilt' they will be losing, or have lost those "young stud" pitchers to free agency or the threat thereof.
    I believe the Zito signing is what has postponed and will inevitably doom this team while they have the good pitching.

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  13. Hey, I plan on enjoying the next 5-10 years. I feel sorry for you people who don't realize that a golden age of the Giants are dawning, led by our young pitching.

    The thing you don't realize is that our young pitchers like being here and consider each other friends. I don't expect to get a hometown discount from Lincecum, but I don't anticipate him asking for the moon either. I expect both to sign long-term contracts into their free agency years at some point in the next two years. I'm a patient person, unlike most fans.

    Zito's contract wasn't the greatest, and looked like the worse, but if he can continue pitching like he did in 2009, it wouldn't be the worse anymore. His contract won't interfere with us keeping Lincecum if we want him and with Renteria and others coming off contract soon, that would free money for Cain too.

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  14. I see that there was another classic Sabean Epic fail. LaRoche signed with the D'bags for $4.5M. A much better player than Huff for just marginally more dollars.

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  15. Well, Boof, if you consider 50% more dollars as marginal, I guess you are right.

    However, it's appears that it's a one year contract at $4.5M with an option for 2011 with a $1M buyout, so he's actually being paid $5.5M, or almost double what Huff got.

    What you don't consider is that the Giants reportedly offered 2 years at $17M and LaRoche turned that down, then when the Giants went to Huff, he finally broke down and signed with Arizona.

    Plus, you assume he would sign with the Giants at $5.5M. He's going to a clear hitter's park where he can rack up offensive stats and cash in next off-season. He probably wanted a lot more to go to a pitcher's park (which is everyone's impression; that hasn't been true, by either Bill James, Baseball Prospectus, or baseball-reference.com take for around 5 seasons now) like AT&T.

    And LaRoche, according to the Fielding Bible, has been among the worse defensive 1B in the majors over the past 4 seasons, costing his teams roughly 1 win per season.

    Not that I wouldn't have minded getting LaRoche instead. But at the prices they were paid, I think that the Giants will get good value from Huff, with a strong possibility that he could produce as much as LaRoche for half the cost, which is a great deal.

    And if he doesn't produce, then the Giants would go to Ishikawa and I think he can produce close to what Huff or LaRoche would for much less money. So I'm happy either way and Ishikawa gets to stay with the team, I still think that he deserves more of a chance to show off what he can do, particularly given how strong his defense is at 1B.

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