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August 18, 2009

Transaction Action

Texas Two-Steps and Leaving in a Huff

by Christina Kahrl

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BALTIMORE ORIOLES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Traded 4C-L Aubrey Huff to the Tigers for RHP Brett Jacobson. [8/17]
Optioned RHP Matt Albers to Norfolk (Triple-A); recalled RHP Kam Mickolio from Norfolk; purchased the contract of 1B-L Michael Aubrey from Norfolk. [8/18]

After so much anticipation of what Huff might have been worth, the answer turned out to be not a whole lot, which between the Orioles' waiting and Huff's lackluster '09 really doesn't amount to much of a surprise. At least Jacobson's sort of a prospect, since he stands six and a half feet tall and he throws in the low 90s, and he helps that velocity with a somewhat deceptive delivery. He came to the pros as a fourth-round pick out of Vanderbilt last summer, but his full-season debut comes with a few warts. High-A relievers who give up 4.9 runs per nine aren't usually considered commodities, and striking out little more than seven batters per nine isn't all that special either. However, Jacobson is showing decent command, walking 16 in 55 1/3 IP, but perhaps unsurprising given his size and delivery, he's more than a bit ungainly on the mound, which opponents have exploited by swiping 13 stolen bases in 17 attempts, and he's been less effective pitching from the stretch. Experimentation with his off-speed repertoire doesn't seem to have taken effect all too well; he's getting lit up by lefties (.307/.340/.545), but his combination of height, leverage, and velocity seems death on his fellow normals, as he's holding right-handers down to .197/.270/.262.

Naturally, the real problem is their having held onto Huff beyond the point he'd bring them much of value. (You could say the same about Melvin Mora, for that matter, although the window in which Mora would have commanded much of anything might not have been more than a peephole's promise yielding up a vista of nothingness.) Given how much they got in the Bedard heist, it seems strange to kibitz overmuch, but clearly what was lost was an opportunity to convert Huff for more than a minor league reliever who might grow up to be minor league reliever, or maybe a big-league ROOGY even. At least the Tigers are picking up the balance of Huff's salary, but an opportunity lost is an opportunity wasted.

In the meantime, for fulfillment of their first-base chores, they'll turn to the long-suffering Aubrey, who they acquired from Cleveland earlier this season for a PTBNL. Since his now-long-ago heyday as a top prospect, Aubrey's career has been a long litany of injuries for the most part, but he's been relatively healthy this season, if unfortunately not all that productive, hitting just .290/.323/.436. (Or very Huff-like, sans the whiff of expensive disappointment.) It's a nice thing to see him get a spin in The Show, but he's already 27, and there's not a lot more to recommend him than just to note that he's paid his dues in the trainer's room to get this far.


DETROIT TIGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Acquired 4C-L Aubrey Huff from the Orioles for RHP Brett Jacobson; transferred RHP Joel Zumaya from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [8/17]
Activated 4C-L Aubrey Huff; optioned RHP Eddie Bonine to Toledo (Triple-A); designated RHP Chris Lambert for assignment. [8/18]

There's a good chance that trading for Huff winds up being noisily unimportant, but he's a player making lots of money going to a team playing for high stakes, and he's been a quality hitter in at least one of the last three years, and is just as notionally a multi-positional solution for a lineup that has holes all over the place. It didn't really take anything major to get him, so there is that. Dave Dombrowski cited Huff's multi-positional virtues, and well that he should; with Carlos Guillen limited to first base and DH so far since his return from the DL, and with Miguel Cabrera moored at first base as well, Huff's almost guaranteed to get most of his playing time in the outfield with his new team, at least until Guillen's healthy enough to give left field another shot. Just try not to call Huff a power hitter or a major offensive asset. The man's 32 years old, and he's hitting .264/.338/.429 off of right-handed pitching (we're being charitable and focusing on the positive), so that's about all the Motor City Kitties have any right to expect from here on out.

The sad thing is, it might help more than a bit. Guillen's hit well enough to be worth leaving alone in the lineup, even at DH; since coming back from the DL, he's hitting .301/.383/.494. That still leaves the two outfield corners, though. Marcus Thames isn't really a great everyday option, not in an outfield corner and not at DH, and not while he can't get aboard against right-handers at a .300 clip, and not when he can't really mash against power pitchers. That's still a player you can pick your spots with, of course. Clete Thomas' brief fling with utility has shriveled back into the Pat Sheridan-dom it sprang from; that still draws starts on this team, of course, between Guillen's fragility and Thames' obvious limitations, but heck, call it a platoon for left field, and make do.

And then there's Magglio Ordoņez, notional everyday right fielder, and now just 79 plate appearances from locking in his $18 million club option. Ordoņez is hitting an unacceptably bad .252/.321/.347 against right-handers, and then there's his prodigious ability to snuff rallies in an instant, ranking sixth in the league in NetDP. So, this would be an obvious spot for Huff to step in and start, right? Maybe. It doesn't mean the Tigers will be able to put up with the inevitable complaints from Scott Boras, but at this late date, even limited to just platoon duty, Ordoņez seems a virtual lock to get there, barring his outright release and the willingness to risk the resulting firestorm of complaining, not to mention the difficulties this would add to any subsequent negotiations with Boras over any other players.

As bad as Ordoņez has been, the problem is that Huff's not a ton better. Even so, he's been better enough and, as mentioned, was an actually good major league regular in one of the last three seasons. When you're 12th in the league in offense, you tend to be a bit less discriminating. Relative progress is still progress of a sort, so even if the Tigers still don't have a great lineup, between this tweak and working Al Avila into the job behind the plate, maybe that plates enough runs to keep the White Sox at arm's length. Maybe.


TEXAS RANGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Acquired C-R Ivan Rodriguez from the Astros for RHP Matt Nevarez and a PTBNL; placed UT-R Esteban German on the 15-day DL (strained groin); recalled RHP Guillermo Moscoso from Oklahoma City (Triple-A); designated C-R Kevin Richardson for assignment. [8/18]

Now that it looks like Jarrod Saltalamacchia might be lost for the season, you knew that the Rangers had to do something about their sudden shortage of playable players behind the plate. As badly as Taylor Teagarden has hit and will (or won't, depending on how you look at it), the Rangers are probably right to assert that he's nevertheless still their starting catcher in the wake of this deal, because Pudge's shadow of his former All-Star self has gotten awfully thin this late in his career. Indeed, Pudge is something of pea that fits right into this particular pod, having generated a .227 EqA to Teagarden's .222 and Salty's .229.

To some extent, I worry that things are worse still. Beyond the frustrations Rodriguez has endured behind the plate as his career winds down, he's striking out in a career-high 21.5 percent of his at-bats, and he's hitting a miserable .238/.272/.352 against right-handers in the weaker league and in a hitter's park. His receiving skills aren't what they used to be, but he's still a strong arm behind the plate, gunning 31 percent of opponents' stolen-base attempts. In short, Pudge has degenerated into a quality backup, somebody who can deter the running game a bit, and mash lefties. And show off one hell of a trophy case, but that's not usually counted in the standings.

It's a nice depth move for the Rangers, as well as a mutually classy exchange between the Texas teams that lets Rodriguez perhaps end his career in his original team's uniform while playing in a few more meaningful ballgames; it isn't like it's in doubt which cap he'll be assigned by the Hall of Fame come that day, after all. It isn't a major addition as much as a modest bit of shoring up; it wouldn't surprse me at all if Pudge earns more than a caddy's playing time-Teagarden's limitations as an offensive contributor are equally daunting-but this is more a matter of shoring up a bad situation than repairing it entirely.


HOUSTON ASTROS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Traded C-R Ivan Rodriguez to the Rangers for RHP Matt Nevarez and a PTBNL; recalled INF-R Edwin Maysonet from Round Rock (Triple-A). [8/18]

You might figure this means that the white flag's a-flying in Houston, but beyond any symbolic inference that such is the case, this doesn't really change things for the Astros at the major league level all that much. As poorly as Pudge was doing, they can get similarly quality from Humberto Quintero, and maybe some extra at-bats for Chris Coste helps him shake off the rust and get his bat going. Ideally, they'll work up the nerve to take another spin with J.R. Towles, but Towles has been out of action shortly after suffering what was reported as a "tractor mishap" in late July, although it appears to be a flare-up of a hamstring problem, and not the broken nose the "tractor" gave him. (Maybe this tractor's a cousin of Jeff Kent's truck, or motorcycle, or mean-spirited wheeled conveyance to be named later-didn't Stephen King write a few stories about this sort of thing?) Regardless, right around now would be a good time for Towles to be ready to return to action and-ideally-give the 'Stros a multi-week read on whether or not they have to go dipping back into that shallow pool of free-agent possibilities this winter to find another temporary patch for their starting catcher problem. (Brad Ausmus will be available.)

In the meantime, an organization this talent-hungry can't help but feel reinforced for having received something. Nevarez is 22 years old, big, and he throws hard, all nice things, and basically that's what you could say about him five years ago, when he was snagged out of a California high school in the 10th round of the 2005 draft. Injuries and control issues intervened, costing him all of 2006 and 2007; last year he was in the short-season Northwest League, and this year marked his full-season debut. He'd been somewhat dominant down in the Low-A Sally League, striking out 50 against 14 unintentional walks in 35 IP. He's struggled lately, perhaps as a matter of simply wearing down in the longest stretch of regular-season play he's ever had to endure, but he's an interesting arm as such things go.

The good news for the Astros is that Nevarez is probably the throw-in; according to the indispensable Jamey Newberg, the other player should be somebody on the 40-man, meaning he would have to pass through waivers or, if claimed, be revoked to the Rangers to await the offseason to change organizations. So this deal stands to turn out very well for Houston if that's the case, because the Astros need everything, and could use anybody.


Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here

Related Content:  A's,  Aubrey Huff,  The Who,  Triple-A,  The Call-up

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