The Detroit Tigers acquired first baseman Aubrey Huff from the Baltimore Orioles today in exchange for minor league pitcher Brett Jacobson. Huff recently cleared waivers allowing the Orioles to swap him for Jacobson, an A league pitching prospect.
So how does this move get the Tigers any closer to the playoffs? At first glance, the move doesn't make a lot of sense. Huff primarily plays first base, but has seen and good amount of time at designated hitter as well. At first glance neither of these positions are necessarily upgraded by Huff arrival, but lets look a little deeper.
So how does Huff work at first base? Current starter Miguel Cabrera is an elite first baseman and fields his position very well, so Huff would be a back-up at the very most at first base. Detroit didn't have a solid back-up first baseman before Huff's arrival. The back-up duties were primarily taken over by infielder Ryan Raburn (more on him later) and could have eventually been shared with Carlos Guillen, but Huff is a fielding upgrade over both of them at first base.
Now we look at the logjam at designated hitter in Detroit. Detroit currently has 3 players that see time regularly at DH, Marcus Thames, Carlos Guillen, and Magglio Ordonez. Currently only Magglio Ordonez has a higher batting average this season, but Ordonez sees the majority of his playing time in right field. However, a good slugging percentage can be more important to a designated hitter than batting average, only Marcus Thames has a higher slugging percentage than Huff so far this season.
So we now see how Huff can upgrade both positions by adding depth and occasional starts, but neither position is where he provides the most value. He provides the greatest value for the Tigers at third base. Although Huff is considered a first baseman and won the "Edgar Martinez award" in 2008 for being considered the best designated hitter in the league, he has played third base in some capacity every year of his career except for this year, that is about to change.
Detroit's current starting third baseman is fan favorite Brandon Inge, and Inge is currently dealing with a nagging knee injury and some extra time on the bench would only help him in the long run. The current back up third baseman is Ryan Raburn who has a horrible .600 fielding percentage at third base. Granted Raburn has only played 5 games at third base this season, but he has proven that Detroit needs a more capable back-up at third base. Huff has not had a fielding percentage under .950 at third base since 2004 (0.943 in 2004).
So while dealing for Huff may at first glance seem like a purely offensive minded move, the true value in the move comes from Huff's defensive abilities. All in all, the flexibility he gives Detroit as a productive left-handed bat and solid defensive back up could be enough to keep Detroit atop their division as the playoff run continues.
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