Trade Candidate: Aubrey Huff

With the All-Star break having come and gone, the next important date in the baseball season is July 31st – the trade deadline. With the Orioles clearly out of contention – I’d be pretty happy if they could just keep from collapsing in the second half, and maybe make a run at the Blue Jays for fourth place – the team is one of a few that can already be declared as a potential seller. The O’s have a few players they could move, in an attempt to get some more youth and depth for a potential run at the division title in a couple of years. We’ll start out by looking at Aubrey Huff.

Huff is making about $3.7 M for the rest of the year and has been worth -$0.9 M (-0.2 Wins Above Replacement) in the first half. That’s right – below average offense (.314 wOBA) and poor defense (-2.9 UZR) don’t mix well coming from a first-baseman (and that doesn’t even include his baserunning, other than steals). Due to his very good 2008 season, Huff would still net the team some draft-picks though (he’s likely to be a Type-A free agent), if the team offered him arbitration after this season and he signed with another team. The O’s don’t really have someone ready to step in and play first-base next year, but I don’t know if they’d risk having to pay Huff $6-10 M next year if he accepted their arbitration offer. It’s not a payroll busting amount, but it’s probably more than he’ll be worth. The Mariners found Russell Branyan just kind of floating around and he’s been killing the ball this year, so I’d avoid getting into the “but who’s going to play first-base?” frame of mind. Obviously the decision of whether or not to hold on to Huff until the end of the season depends some on what the team could get back in a trade. Let’s walk through the different possibilities: (1) The Orioles keep Huff. In that case the team would gain his production for the rest of the year – let’s say about $2.3 M worth, given that ZiPS projection system calls for an updated wOBA of .340 in the second half, which would result in around 0.5 WAR – and give up his salary ($3.6 M). That results in a net loss of about $1.3 M to the team. Then, the Orioles can either offer him arbitration or not. If they don’t, then the end result is that loss of $1.3 M (since if they re-sign him, presumably it’ll be for whatever he should actually be worth next year, for an excess value of $0 – and if they don’t re-sign him then he’s just gone). If they do offer him arbitration, then we need to make some assumptions about what would then happen. Let’s say it’s 50-50 that Huff accepts (keep in mind that we’re projecting him to hit better from here on out and so he should be a bit more enticing to potential suitors). So there’s a 50% chance that the O’s have to pay him, say, $8 M (same salary as this year), and they’ll probably get around 1 WAR worth of production from him (between $4.5 M and $5 M). So they’d lose about $3 M. If he doesn’t accept arbitration and then signs with another team, then the O’s would get the two draft picks which should have an excess value of about $5 M. So that’s 50% * (-3) + 50% * (+5) = $1 M. If you think there’s a greater than 50% chance that Huff accepts (which may be correct), then it would be lower – perhaps an overall value of $0, or even negative. So taken together, keeping Huff would cost the team somewhere in the $0 to $2 M range. Maybe between a $2 M gain and a $3.5 M loss if you’d like a range with a greater probability. (2) Trading Huff. To come out better overall – on average – the team would need to acquire, more or less, nothing.  A bag of balls.  To make up for the top bound of the larger range, the team would only need a C/C+ type prospect (especially if it’s a younger one). That means that it’s really about what would the team looking to pick Huff up are willing to send over, and how much magic Andy MacPhail can work. So which teams could use a (sometimes) slugging first-baseman? The San Fransisco Giants: The Giants have ridden their pitching staff (MLB best 3.51 ERA) to a 49-39 record and a tie (with the NL East leading Phillies) for the second best record in the National League (behind the NL West leading Dodgers). If San Fransisco is going to be competitive for the rest of the year and into the playoffs, they will probably need to upgrade an offense that’s 13th in the NL in runs score with 368. Travis Ishikawa has been the main starter at first-base, putting up a .268/.324/.432 line (very similar to Huff’s .259/.327/.424) with 7 home runs and a .327 wOBA. Ishikawa’s ZiPS projection for the rest of the year calls for a .322 wOBA though (to Huff’s .340). Overall, Ishikawa has been more valuable than Huff due to his plus defense (+8.6 runs), but I don’t know how likely that is to continue. Personally, if I was in the Giants’ position I wouldn’t like to make this type of an upgrade. It’s not a huge difference in value and if I was going to replace Ishikawa I’d want it to be someone better. I’m not Brian Sabean though, so I don’t know what he’ll do, but he did say that he wasn’t interested in soon-to-be free agents. Left-handed pitcher Jonathan Sanchez (good slider, some control problems) might have been on the table, but that was before he threw his no-hitter last week. Now I expect it would be some mid-level prospect (sorry, no Madison Bumgarner), with maybe a second one or a low-level guy thrown in if the O’s pick up a bit of Huff’s remaining salary. Maybe someone like Double-A shortstop Brandon Crawford (hitting .254/.301/.352 at that level and .371/.445/.600 previously at A-Ball this year, drafted in the 4th Round of the 2008 draft) who isn’t considered one of their top 10 (or sometimes top 20) prospects and has a couple guys ahead of him at the same position in the depth chart. Or another, more highly regarded, shortstop in 19 year-old Ehire Adrianza, who’s hitting .282/.353/.361 in A-Ball and is supposed to have a good glove (despite a few errors). With the O’s short on quality shortstop prospects, those are the kinds of deals I’d be pretty OK with making. The New York Mets: Injuries have hit the Mets hard, and they’re having a very disappointing 42-45 season. Stars Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran are on the shelf, but so is first-baseman Carlos Delgado.  He hit 38 HR last year and was putting up a .298/.393/.521 line in 94 at bats to start the year.  Daniel Murphy is filling in for Delgado, but .248/.314/.364 is really not the kind of production a contending team can afford to get from an offensive position. Acquiring a first-baseman would allow Murphy to move back to the outfield – another sore spot for the team even after they traded for Jeff Franceour – where his offense would still be bad, though better. Another shortstop, such as 19 year old Ruben Tejada, who’s hitting .287/.353/.358 in Double-A and is supposed to have a good glove, would be nice.  Or maybe 23 year old right-handed pitcher Dillon Gee, who has shown good control in the minors and has a 42:16 K to BB ration in 48.1 IP at Triple-A this year. If I was the Mets, I might be more inclined to take a mulligan on the season and start selling off some peripheral parts though. The Detroit Tigers: They’re in first place in the AL Central with a 48-39 record and could likely use a left-handed batter to complement Marcus Thames (.272/.331/.544, but much better against lefties than righties) at DH.  Considering that they’re already getting OK production there and have Miguel Cabrera (.321/.384/.542) at first, I don’t know if Detroit would be willing to give up all that much. Perhaps a young hard-throwing relief pitching prospect (which the Tigers have several of). And… I think that’s about it.  I guess the Rangers could use Huff to replace Chris “Swing-and-a-miss” Davis, but they also have Hank Blalock (.260/.307/.547, 19 HR) and Andruw Jones (.231/.332/.538, 14 HR) to potentially play first and DH respectively. The Rays could use him in combination with Pat Burrell at DH, maybe. Those teams probably aren’t going to give anything up for Huff though. So that’s my opinion – trade Huff for pretty much whatever you can get (I may have understated Huff’s value to the team for whatever reason, but I still don’t think holding on to him is a good idea if they can get a young player in return). Really, that might have been a better move to make last year, when the team could have gotten a decent return.