O's Will Miss Huff, For Now

August 19, 2009|By Peter Schmuck

We're going to miss Aubrey Huff, and not just because of his entertaining antics on satellite radio or his groundbreaking discovery that offseason conditioning is seriously overrated.

We're going to miss him because he is a proven run-producer who held down one of the corner infield positions on a team that doesn't have anybody ready to take his place at first base.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not blasting the trade that sent Huff to the Detroit Tigers on Monday in exchange for Single-A relief pitcher Brett Jacobson. That's the kind of deal you make when you're trying to get younger. I'm just worried that the front office might be sending the wrong message to the fans at this critical juncture in the team's rebuilding program.

There's no way the Orioles can be competitive in 2010 without a legitimate power bat in the cleanup spot, so the decision to shed Huff for some payroll savings and a 2008 fourth-round draft choice can be interpreted one of two ways.

It's either proof that Andy MacPhail is willing to suffer through at least one more long season to develop his own corner infielders - something that isn't going to sit well with an already cynical public - or he intends to work some offseason magic to get a star-quality run-producer to station in the middle of the lineup.

The first option would require the Orioles to either gamble on one of the unproven infielders in the system (Michael Aubrey, Brandon Snyder or newly acquired Rhyne Hughes) or convert a member of the current roster into a capable first baseman. That process may have begun Monday night when Luke Scott moved out of the designated hitter role to replace Huff at first. The O's also could consider testing left fielder Nolan Reimold over there, now that fourth outfielder Felix Pie appears to be maturing at the plate, but club officials seem comfortable with Reimold where he is.

Even if someone like that filled the defensive requirements of the position, however, the departure of Huff - albeit in a year when he retreated from his strong 2008 numbers - still takes a significant bite out of the club's run-production potential going forward.

MacPhail's other option, of course, is to go in search of a marquee first baseman to anchor the lineup, and the name that you're probably going to hear a lot over the winter is Adrian Gonzalez.

Don't get too excited. Trade rumors involving Gonzalez have been circulating for the past couple of months, because the San Diego Padres are a long way from being competitive and Gonzalez would bring a mother lode of young talent in return. They don't have to trade him, because he's under control through 2011 at a very reasonable price, but they probably won't be able to afford him after that.

The Orioles are one of the teams with the kind of young talent that might get a deal like that done, but we're talking about a 27-year-old player who has averaged more than 30 homers in his first four full major league seasons. It would take a lot of Andy's "inventory" to pry the guy out of San Diego, and it would represent a tremendous organizational gamble for the O's.

This is a team that still is haunted by the ill-fated Glenn Davis deal, which cost the Orioles three players who would go on to be All-Stars - including 2004 World Series hero Curt Schilling. MacPhail would have to take a similar risk with a chunk of the Orioles' best young talent that would likely include at least one of the club's elite pitching prospects.

MacPhail is a fairly conservative guy, so it's almost hard to imagine him taking a leap like that, but it's going to take some bold action to put the Orioles on course to be truly competitive in the American League East.

There are other avenues, of course, though the free-agent pickings look pretty thin.

The Orioles also could pursue a trade for a lesser-impact player such as Colorado Rockies corner infielder Garrett Atkins, who has become available during a difficult 2009 season after averaging more than 100 RBIs the previous four years.

It really comes down to whether the plan is truly to be more competitive in 2010, or just to show enough progress to prevent an open revolt in the stands.

Dealing Huff could make sense either way, but it makes the most sense if the Orioles come up with somebody better by next spring. Until that happens, I think we're going to miss him.

Listen to Peter Schmuck weeknights at 6 on WBAL (1090 AM).

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