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With just over a month left before pitchers and catchers report for spring training, the free agents who are still looking for work are beginning to quiver about their off-season fates. Today’s Roundup features two such players, who have distinctly different credentials but have been united in the unemployment line.

Aubrey Huff ‘keeping fingers crossed’ for a job
From 2008-2011, the aging Huff developed a reputation for excellence in even-numbered years and ineptitude in odd-numbered years. The Giants took a one-year, $3 million flier on Huff on Jan. 10, 2010, and watched him thrive as the unexpected hero of their championship team, to the tune of a career-high 5.8 WARP and 26 home runs, his second-highest total since 2004. Unfortunately, general manager Brian Sabean’s desire to keep the Band of Misfits together resulted in an ill-fated two-year, $22 million extension. Huff was one of the league’s worst regulars in 2011 (-0.2 WARP), and his bid for an even-numbered-year rebound was derailed by injuries and a late-April panic attack.

According to CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman, who spoke with Huff’s attorney, Ed Hayes, a few days ago, the 36-year-old is determined not to end his career on such a sour note. As San Francisco Chronicle beat writer Henry Schulman recounted in the afore-linked feature, Huff went into a tailspin after starting the year in a 6-for-33 slump and committing a fateful blunder during an emergency appearance at second base. Later in the year, even the Giants’ highest regular-season high became a low point for Huff, when he sprained his right knee jumping over the railing to celebrate Matt Cain’s perfect game.

Huff would reinjure that knee in late July, and he ultimately spent 68 days nursing it on the disabled list, in addition to the two weeks that he needed to recover from the anxiety disorder that triggered the panic attack. Apart from taking home his second World Series ring—despite going 1-for-9 as a pinch-hitter in the playoffs—Huff’s 2012 had few bright spots, and his eagerness to leave it in the rearview mirror could benefit a team willing to gamble on him the way the Giants did two years ago.

The key to a renaissance, as evidenced by the charts below from Huff’s Hitter Profile, will be his ability to drive pitches up in the zone:

During Huff’s outstanding 2010, pitchers who left mistakes up and on the inner half often paid the price. In 2011, he was utterly unable to drive those elevated offerings, failing to notch a single extra-base hit in what just a year earlier had been his power alley.

The spray charts above, from, illustrate the effects of Huff’s decline. Many of his right-field long balls in 2010 became cans of corn in 2011, and his minimal opposite-field thump eroded entirely, with only a couple of fly balls reaching the AT&T Park warning track. Given Huff’s injuries and mental woes, his 78 at-bat sample from 2012 is not instructive, so teams mulling an offer will be asked to take a leap of faith on the return of at least some of the pop that he displayed in 2010.

Heyman mentioned in his blog post that among injury-plagued, declining first basemen/designated hitters, Lance Berkman sat atop the free-agent depth chart. But, on Saturday, Berkman agreed to a one-year, $11 million deal with the Rangers, and if he passes his physical in Arlington, needy GMs may instead turn their attention to Huff. Heyman speculated that two of Huff’s past employers, the Rays and Orioles, could phone his representatives in the near future, and he also tossed the Indians and Red Sox into the mix. With several possible destinations, a minor-league tender including a spring-training invitation should be easily attainable, and if Huff keeps his fingers crossed long enough, an incentivized major-league gig just might come along.

Braves still open to bringing back Michael Bourn
While Huff’s quiet offseason is unsurprising, Bourn’s 3.7 WARP output in 2012 was expected to deliver a long line of suitors for his agent, Scott Boras, to pinch for every last penny. But the 30-year-old’s status as a compensated free agent, who would cost most interested teams their first-round pick, pushed him down the totem pole, as Angel Pagan, Shane Victorino, and B.J. Upton were putting pen to paper on new contracts.

When the Braves set the market with a five-year, $75.25 million hitch for Upton, it seemed that the former Ray would simply fill Bourn’s shoes. But, with the ex-Brave lingering and long-term offers proving hard to come by, general manager Frank Wren told ESPN’s Jim Bowden that the door remains open for Bourn to stay in Atlanta.

Bourn’s troubles began when he declined the Braves’ qualifying offer, which would have given him a $13.3 million salary for the 2013 season. A better overall player than Upton, but with more defensive value and considerably less power, Bourn could reasonably have expected a comparable average annual value ($15 million), perhaps in the form of a four-year pact worth $60 million. Such a proposal might yet be forthcoming, with the Mariners and Rangers representing feasible sources, but the Braves—who coughed up their top pick for Upton, but would not need to surrender their second-rounder for Bourn—make for a useful safety net.

Manager Fredi Gonzalez is currently slated to play Upton in center field, Martin Prado in left field, and Juan Francisco at third base, with Prado seeing occasional starts at the hot corner when Reed Johnson and Jose Constanza work their way into the lineup. Bringing back Bourn would shift Upton to left, freeing up Prado to serve as the primary third baseman—a combination of moves that would vastly improve Atlanta’s defense. The Braves also now lack a prototypical leadoff man, and Bourn would slide right into the spot he vacated atop the order.

With Atlanta’s interest virtually guaranteeing a soft landing—even if it doesn’t bring the long-term certainty or annual paychecks that Bourn had hoped for in his first free-agent experience—Boras won’t be in any rush to take what he believes is a substandard offer. And that means, barring a multi-year cave-in, the Bourn saga is likely to extend for at least the rest of this month. 

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What are the chances that the Braves do a sign and trade move like they did with Soriano a couple of years ago?
The problem is finding a proper valuation for a late first round pick. I'm sure the Yankees, Braves and Cardinals would be open to a sign and trade for Soriano, Bourn or Lohse, but to do another team the favor they'd need someone to give them an asset roughly the value not just of the pick itself, but also of the added picks overall impact on the team's draft pool cap.
The other thing to keep in mind here is that MLBTR's Tim Dierkes heard a couple of weeks ago that MLB would view sign-and-trade deals to avoid draft-pick compensation as "collusion":

Buster Olney replied to Dierkes that there might be a loophole (, so we'll see what happens.
When Soriano was traded, he had not been signed as a free agent by the Braves.
Very optimistic to think an aging Huff can rebound. 2011 was his only good year out of the last 4 years. I could see a GM giving him a minor league deal. Any more is nuts.
It is a longshot, considering that his 2010 to 2011 decline has signs of being age-related, but Huff probably merits a spring-training invitation nonetheless. I agree with you that a major-league offer is unlikely.
Hard to see Bourn as a fit with too many teams at this stage. How many teams are planning on contending and need a CF? Atlanta could shift Upton to LF-- yes. Similarly Baltimore could shift Jones to LF. Tampa Bay? Probably won't pay $13-15M/yr...

Seems to me like he's running out of options.
The door being open to a Bourn return doesn't mean the Braves would actually seek it or offer the $13.3M he turned down. His uninjured .225/.325/.311 second half is part of the reason no one has jumped out there and given up the draft pick. Defensively Bourn makes the Braves outfield one of the best in the league. OTOH Prado was the top left fielder in the league last year and Francisco improved a ton at third with Chipper's help. I don't see a $10M upgrade in Bourn and I doubt Wren does either. The qualifying offer was designed to get the draft pick but in a budget like Atlanta's the ROI needs to be there particularly after the Upton overpay.
Aubrey Huff, Juan Uribe, Marco Scutaro, Andres Torres.....still trying to figure out how SF has two rings in three years.
I'm as baffled as anyone. But for all of his weaknesses as a GM, Sabean's done a very nice job of covering up his mistakes.
At what point is the draft choice penalty vacated? Ex: if the players sits out the year, or signs after a certain point, does the draft choice compensation no longer apply?
According to the new CBA after the next draft so sometime in June. It's on page 88 - 89 of the CBA if interested.

A Qualified Free Agent shall be subject to compensation only if: . . . the Player declines the Qualifying Offer or signs a contract with another Major League Club prior
to the expiration of the Acceptance Period; and (iii) the Player signs a Major League contract with another Major League Club that is confirmed by the Players Association and the LRD before the next succeeding Major League Rule 4 Draft (“Rule 4 Draft”).
Thanks for clarifying that, FredOwens. I haven't seen a specific date listed, but it seems like it couldn't be any later than day one of the amateur draft, since the compensatory round will have passed.