Giants bring in Aubrey Huff

Some consider the San Francisco Giants’ signing of first baseman Aubrey Huff (CBS5, via MLB Trade Rumors) to a one-year, $3 million deal uninspiring. While Huff should provide a return on investment, it is hard to disagree.

Orioles vs. Royals

The Giants are able to boast a payroll of $80-$90 million, but with Tim Lincecum hitting arbitration as well as the incredibly short-sighted contracts of Barry Zito and Aaron Rowand, payroll flexibility is a difficult thing to come by.

Back when Barry Bonds was part of the club and the team was advancing to the 2002 World Series, general manager Brian Sabean threw money at the major league system with no regard for the minors, likely dictated from up top. In a switch once the team fell flat on its face (equally both Sabean and the previous ownership’s fault), the minor leagues have taken on increased importance in the post-Bonds era, and the Giants have slowly built up into a contender again, no thanks to the Zito and Rowand contracts. In fact, Sabean got burned yet again last offseason, signing shortstop Edgar Renteria to a two-year, $18.5 million deal that was a disaster from day one. Renteria himself wasn’t a bad option at the time, but Sabean struck too quickly — he could have ended up with Renteria at significantly less dollars if he had waited the market out into what ended up a recession.

Coming into the 2010 offseason, it was clear that Sabean would be hamstrung financially with a need to upgrade multiple offensive positions in order to chase down a NL West title. It’s questionable if the club could even have afforded Matt Holliday or Jason Bay, but assuming they did, the loss of draft picks and long-term flexibility didn’t make sense for a club already grappling with two big-money players not living up to expectations. With multiple positions needing help (namely first base and left field), Sabean went with flexibility and platoon advantages, which — while not necessarily preferred — is generally a surefire way to cheaply upgrade your team.

After bringing Mark DeRosa and Juan Uribe into the fold, the next goal was to bring in another bat who could preferably play left. Enter Aubrey Huff, a first baseman.

Huff has stark platoon splits and is best off facing right-handers. While Pablo Sandoval eventually will need to move to first, the Kung-Fu Panda is on a crash diet to bring down his weight. Assuming he can shed some of it, he might be able to stick at third for a couple more years. By slotting Huff at first, Sandoval at third and making DeRosa a left fielder against right-handers, the lineup starts looking like it could do some damage.

Most projections seem to think Huff will bounce back to roughly an OPS no lower than .750. If the Giants platoon him against right-handers, that .750 OPS would have to be considered the low end Huff’s expected value. At an expected 1-2 WAR on the season, $3 million represents a win on the Giants’ part, at least according to Sky Andrecheck, who found that one win (WAR) was worth about $6 to $7 million. Applying this to Huff’s case, $3 million represents an expectation of .48 WAR, something Huff should have no trouble eclipsing.

The only question here is if Huff’s signing, even as beneficial as it may be, was the right idea.

Take Adam LaRoche, another first baseman on the market. He has been reportedly seeking a deal around three years and $30 million and probably won’t settle for anything less than two years and $16 million. Projected to be around 2-3 WAR, it seems as if Huff is the better choice.

Don’t forget about Ryan Garko. The Giants dealt minor league pitcher Scott Barnes — who has some upside — to the Indians last July for Garko, who has a right-handed platoon split as well. Garko’s 115 at-bat stint with San Francisco was enough for the team to cut ties with him, and yet they’re turning to an older, likely more expensive version of Garko.

How about internal candidate Travis Ishikawa? Ishikawa is a genius with the glove, at least according to 2009 UZR numbers (which needs the small sample size caveat), and at only 26 still has a chance to contribute with his bat. Indeed, he has a platoon split against right-handers similar to Huff. He doesn’t have the upside against them that Huff brings, but at the major league minimum salary, will provide far more bang for the buck than Huff.

For a club focused on improving it’s offense, though, Ishikawa wasn’t a logical choice. Plus, at the league minimum and just 25, the team has a fallback option should Huff fall flat on his face, like he did after being traded to Detroit for the end of the 2009 season. (San Francisco also has John Bowker in Triple-A, where he hit .352/.469/.652 against right-handers last year.)

Speaking of defense, by signing Huff, the club may have inadvertently improved the team’s defense. The Huff signing moves DeRosa to left field, where DeRosa boasts a career UZR/150 of -1.1 (59 G) as opposed to -6.5 at third (311 G). (DeRosa posted a 21.6 UZR/150 in right field over 160 games.)

At the end of the day, while Huff may end up providing a return on investment above and beyond the $3 million, the deal just goes to show that GM Brian Sabean and Co. still don’t understand that throwing money at veterans doesn’t mean you’re improving the club.

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  1. hairball said...

    Weird: you explain how the deal makes sense in a very convincing manner, and yet, at the outset, and at the conclusion, you act like it’s not a good idea.

  2. Evan Brunell said...

    hairball: The deal does make sense and it’s not a bad deal… but it doesn’t mean it was the right choice.

  3. obsessivegiantscompulsive said...

    I doubt that Renteria would have been available much longer had the Giants not signed him, there were a number of other teams clamoring for his services.

  4. hilarie said...

    Another team signing the rental would have turned out great for the dim GM because now people would not be saying he shoulda signed Renteria, they would be saying Uribe worked out pretty well and maybe Sabean woulda lucked out with the spare $9 million and bought a guy who can hit.

  5. Joe said...

    I said this once, but it said they thought it was spam.  Anyway, I was under the impression that one “win” was worth $4.5 million…

  6. D Leaberry said...

    If Huff hits 25 homers and knocks in over 90 runs, this will be considered a good signing at $ 3 million.  From an economic standpoint, it is interesting how deflation has hit baseball salaries.  Renteria and Rowand might be happy to accept $ 3 million when they become free agents.

  7. Dave Studeman said...

    Regarding estimates of what a free agent win is worth…  At Fangraphs, $4.5 million is the going rate, which is consistent with work I’ve done for the THT Annual.  My analysis was straightforward: It took all the wins contributed by free agents and divided by free agent salaries.  The spotty evidence we have this year is that the market is a bit “down,” though the Bay and Holliday signings probably changed that conclusion.

    Sky’s analysis was different, if my memory cells are still working correctly.  He ran a mutli-variable regression analysis with salary as just one variable.  I know length of contract was another.

    I guess the question of which figure you use depends on which approach you think is more appropriate for your own approach.  Given that Huff’s deal was a one-year one, I might stick with the $4.5 million.

  8. Evan Brunell said...

    Sky did indeed use a multi-year variable, but it was only one of several analyses he used—others were limited to one year.

  9. SharksRog said...

    The Giants probably should have signed Aubrey Huff three years ago rather than re-sign Pedro Feliz.  They would have received more value than from most of their mid-range free agents.  Bringing him in now at 1/$3 million seeems a good gamble.

    If as many of these contingencies occur as don’t, the Giants have a chance to equal last seasons 88 wins.  If most of them go right, they could reach 90 or more.  If all go right, they could approach 100 wins.  The odds that all will go right, of course, are about the same as the odds that California will have a surplus this year.

    .  Huff, DeRosa and Renteria bounce back to their career averages.

    .  Matt Cain, Jeremy Affeldt and Brian Wilson maintain most of their improvement from last season.

    .  Buster Posey, whose career minor league numbers in A Ball and AAA, virtually mirror the minor league numbers of Pablo Sandoval at A and AA in 2008.  The only significant difference is walks, where Buster had about twice as many.  Buster was five months older than Pablo at these corresponding times.

    The point I’m making here is that while there is some concern about Buster’s being ready for the big leagues, his minor league numbers indicate he could become this year’s Sandoval.

    .  Nate Schierholtz, with an amazing 1.101 career OPS against southpaws, begins to hit right-handers as he did in the minors and puts up an OPS around .800.

    .  Aaron Rowand stays on his every-third-year pattern started in 2004 and continued in 2007.

    .  Jonathan Sanchez and Barry Zito maintain their 2009 improvement.

    .  Despite being at $79 million in payroll already with a likely $26 million or so due to their four arbitration eligibles (Lincecum, Wilson, Sanchez and Medders) plus near-minimums for the remaining 12 roster spots, the Giants are somehow able to afford to sign Kiko Calero.

    (More to come)

  10. SharksRog said...

    I was shocked that the Giants won 88 games last season.  I’m a realist.  But I am more optimistic about the Giants’ offense than any time since Barry Bonds was ex-communicated.

    The Giants’ offense just might improve enough to counter what will almost certainly be a noticeable decline in their outstanding pithing in 2009.

    One more reason for my optimism:  While I look for declines from Cain and especially Affeldt, I’m nearly as excited about Tim Lincecum having a breakout season in 2010 as I was in 2008.  I will be somewhat surprised if his ERA is above 2.25 next season, and I think there is a 25% chance it will dip below two.

    This all said, I would have signed/re-signed Garko and Orlando Hudson instead of Sanchez, DeRosa and Huff.  I would have saved the $9 million or so the tradeoff would likely have yielded for a future rainy day (perhaps as early as the trade deadline).

    See how you like the end of these seasons:

    2011—Matt Cain becomes eligible for free agency.  (Sanchez and DeRosa could come off the books.)

    2012—If they begin this season with SF and stay there, Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner become arbitration-eligible.  Jonathan Sanchez become eligible for free agency.  (Rowand will come off the books.)

    2013—Tim Lincecum and Brian Wilson become eligible for free agency.  (Zito could come off the books, but his buyout is $7 million, so if he continues as the above-average starter he was in 2009, the Giants will likely exercise his $18 millon option, since the cost net of the buyout will be “only” $11 million.)

    The bottom line is that if the Giants hope to keep their young nucleus together, they are going to need to manage their money far more carefully than they have since the end of the 2002 season in particular.

  11. DonCoburleone said...

    I’ve been waiting for somebody to mock this signing…  Not only is Ishikawa 100 times better with the glove than Huff but he also had a higher OPS last year! 

    I mean damn, if Lincecum has to miss any significant time this season the Giants are gonna finish behind the Padres in the West.

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