Worst To First

Huff Dealt From 5th-place O's To Al Central-leading Tigers For Single-a Relief Pitcher

August 18, 2009|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

There was a time earlier this season when the Orioles were content with offering would-be free agent Aubrey Huff arbitration and bringing him back for the 2010 season on a lucrative one-year deal. However, Huff's failure to come close to replicating his numbers from last year changed the organization's plan, and the first baseman was traded Monday to the Detroit Tigers for minor league reliever Brett Jacobson.

Huff, who signed a three-year, $20 million deal with the Orioles in January 2007, was named the Most Valuable Oriole last season and won a Silver Slugger Award after hitting .304 with 32 home runs and 108 RBIs. This year, the 32-year-old was never able to find his power stroke or consistency at the plate as he batted .253 with 13 homers and 72 RBIs in 110 games for the Orioles while serving as the everyday first baseman.

Huff's struggles "probably had some impact on [the trade], to be fair," Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail said. "It doesn't preclude us from talking to him again in the offseason. In that respect, it may not have changed much at all. He really did a tremendous job. ... He's a valuable player, a popular player in our clubhouse that I wouldn't close any doors on in our future.

"First, you put the player in a situation where he goes to a first-place team in a potential pennant drive. From a purely self-interest standpoint, this is probably the time where you can get a prospect from a club."

Huff admitted to having mixed feelings about the deal. The Tigers lead the American League Central, meaning that Huff could get an opportunity to be on a playoff team for the first time in his career. But it also means leaving a clubhouse where he emerged as one of the team leaders and a mentor to some of the younger Orioles who have come up this season.

"I've been in last place basically my whole career, so this is an exciting time for me. I'm looking forward to it," he said. "I'm real close to a lot of staff and especially a lot of players on this team. It's definitely emotional. Seeing guys come up, I've had a great time with the young guys. Seeing them finish out the year and grow, it's a little hard. At the same time for me, it's really exciting."

Jacobson, a 22-year-old right-hander, was 1-3 with a 3.74 ERA and six saves in 35 outings for Single-A Lakeland. The Tigers' 10th-ranked prospect according to Baseball America, Jacobson was drafted in the fourth round in 2008 out of Vanderbilt. He'll report to Single-A Frederick.

"He's a hard thrower," MacPhail said. "We've seen him this year as hard as 96 [mph], but obviously he doesn't stay there. It's an area where they had some depth up and down their system. We thought we probably had the chance to extract the most from them in an area where they could feel they could let some stuff go."

The Orioles will save about $2 million in the transaction, as Huff was making $8 million in the final year of his contract. The other immediate ramifications of the deal include Luke Scott's getting the opportunity to play first base regularly, and the expected promotion of Triple-A first baseman Michael Aubrey, who was acquired from the Cleveland Indians this season for a player to be named.

Scott made the first start of his career at first Monday night and Aubrey, who is hitting .290 with eight homers and 52 RBIs at Triple-A this year, could join the Orioles tonight in time for the series opener at the Tampa Bay Rays.

"What it does is it allows the opportunity to take a look at some other guys and give some playing time maybe on a more consistent basis to some other people," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. "Luke Scott's playing first base tonight. That's the lineup tonight. This thing has just happened ... so I really haven't had a chance to think about what I'm going to do after today."

The future ramifications include the Orioles possibly needing to acquire both a starting first baseman and third baseman for 2010, as Melvin Mora also is a free agent after the year and isn't expected back. While neither MacPhail nor Huff ruled out his re-signing with the club, the trade clearly signifies that the Orioles are ready to head in another direction.

If Huff had been in their plans for 2010, the Orioles would have offered him arbitration, which he likely would have accepted. However, his declining numbers had him in line to become a Type B free agent, meaning the Orioles would have gotten a compensatory sandwich pick for losing him.

But that's now a moot point. Aubrey, Rhyne Hughes, whom the Orioles acquired last week from the Rays for catcher Gregg Zaun, infield prospect Brandon Snyder and Ty Wigginton all could be in the mix for the everyday job at first base next season. The Orioles also could choose to fill the vacancy via a trade or free agency.

Huff, who drew heavy criticism and a hefty fine from the organization for comments he made in a radio interview after the 2007 season, including disparaging remarks about Baltimore, said he, his wife and young son grew to love the city.

Before departing, Huff said Orioles fans should feel excited about the organization's future.

"No doubt in my mind," he said when asked whether the club is close to turning it around. "This is probably the best young talent I've been around, and I've been around some young talent. ... You got an All-Star in Adam Jones, and a superstar in Nick Markakis that nobody knows about. [Brian] Matusz, [Chris] Tillman, all these young guys coming up. It's a very exciting time here, and Baltimore should have a lot to look forward to."

By the numbers

How Huff's 2009 stats ranked on the Orioles

Games ... 110 (4th)

Home runs ...13 (4th)

RBIs ... 72 (2nd)

Slugging ... .405 (6th)

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