The good news is that, because of his past extravagance and the looming huge contract for Tim Lincecum, Giants general manager Brian Sabean can no longer sign players to huge contracts. The bad news: He’s no better at evaluating cheaper players.
Case in point: Aubrey Huff, who signed for one year at $3 million to play first base and provide middle-of-the-lineup power. A bargain if he could, but he really can’t produce either the defense or offense the Giants need from their first baseman.
Huff’s contention is that he got a reputation as a bad fielder when he started his major league career as a third baseman with Tampa Bay and nobody has noticed that he’s improved.
Well, I remember when Eric Chavez came up with the A’s with the reputation of being a good hitter who couldn’t field, but after many sessions with Ron Washington, then an A’s coach, he became a Gold Glove third baseman. Those watching him quickly realized his fielding was much better than advertised.
With Huff, not so much. He may think he’s improved defensively but his reputation throughout baseball is as a butcher, whether he plays third, first or in the outfield. He should have stayed in the American League, where he could continue to be a DH.
He will also be a disappointment to the Giants offensively. Two years ago, Huff hit 32 homers for the Orioles, a big jump up from the 15 of his previous year; at 31, it was his highest production in five years. Baseball Prospectus, which does yearly evaluations of players and teams which are usually very accurate, noted that, in the previous 10 years, there had been 10 players over 30 who had a big jump in offensive production. Nine of the 10 had fallen off sharply the next season (the 10th was Barry Bonds, 2002). The book authors predicted that Huff’s power would “quietly dissipate” in 2009 and it did, as Huff fell off to 15 homers.
There was a footnote to Huff’s 32-homer season, too: He was playing home games in a very hitter-friendly park. Now, he’s coming to a park which has been poison to all left-handed power hitters except for Bonds. That’s why Adam LaRoche turned down a two-year contract and then signed a one-year contract for less money with Arizona. He knows he would have had bad numbers at AT&T, but will put up good ones with the Diamondbacks.
A Giants GM should factor in home parks when signing free agents, but Sabean absolutely ignored that when he signed Aaron Rowand to a five-year, $60 million contract, after Rowand hit a career high 27 homers in 2007 while playing his home games in the Phillies’ park, probably now the best home run park in the majors. Rowand has hit a combined 28 homers in two seasons as a Giant, and manager Bruce Bochy had him hitting eighth for a period of time last year.
The Huff signing muddies the waters. The best Giants infield lineup would be Pablo Sandoval at first base, Juan Uribe at third and Mark De Rosa as a backup at third, second and first.
Instead, Bochy talks of playing Huff at first, Sandoval at third and De Rosa in left, which weakens three positions defensively. That makes no sense, but Sabean’s moves have put Bochy in that bind.