Will The Baltimore Orioles Have To Trade Aubrey Huff?

baltimore_orioles_logoBaltimore Orioles team president Andy MacPhail made the right call in his decisions to trade Erik Bedard and Miguel Tejada and to keep Brian Roberts.  He could soon get another test as he must decide whether to keep or trade free agent-to be Aubrey Huff.

There is no question that Huff is a valuable member of a formidable lineup that with the recent additions of Nolan Reimold and Matt Wieters which ranks favorably with any offense in the league.

Aubrey Huff
Image by Keith Allison via Flickr

After hitting .304 with 32 home runs and 108 RBI a year ago, Huff has maintained his power production in 2009.  He ranks among the league leaders with 38 RBI while hitting .273 with 8 home runs and 14 doubles.

Primarily the designated hitter a year ago, Huff has moved to first base this season and is penciled in every night as the cleanup hitter in the batting order.

Even as the infusion of young pitchers has energized the O’s during their recent five-game winning streak, the general belief is that the Orioles don’t have enough pitching talent to compete in 2009 and have been targeting 2010 and 2011 as when they will likely be able to compete in the highly competitive American League East.

With that being the case, the question for MacPhail is whether he sees the 32-year old Huff as part of the long-term future for the franchise.

As is often the case in today’s sports world, the decision could ultimately come down to money.

Huff is completing the final season of a three-year, $20 million contract signed before the 2007 season.  Given his tremendous production over the last two years, it is likely that Huff will likely be looking for a significant raise and long-term deal.

Prior to this season, MacPhail locked up two key components of the lineup-Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis-to long-term contracts.  Is he willing to do the same for Huff?

With 37-year old Melvin Mora nearing the end of his run at third base and prospect Scott Moore yet to prove he can play at the major league level, MacPhail may have to spend some money in the next year to solidify that position for the long haul.

The addition this season of Cesar Izturis has temporarily solidified the shortstop position, but the 29-year old is probably not the long-term answer.

Even with all the talented young pitchers making their way to the major league level, it is likely that MacPhail will also need to bring in at least one quality veteran pitcher to provide depth and experience.

Given those likely needs, will there still be enough money to pay market value for Huff?

If not, MacPhail does have some options at the minor league level.

The farm system includes two first basemen who are currently tearing up their respective leagues, but if the Orioles expect to be contenders over the next couple seasons would it be a wise move to replace a proven run-producer with an unproven player?

Former first round selection Brandon Snyder is having an excellent season at Double-A Bowie with a .351 average, 9 home runs and 37 RBI.

The Orioles also have 30-year old first baseman Oscar Salazar, who is hitting .379 with 9 home runs and 40 RBI, at Triple-A Norfolk.  He hit .284 with 5 home runs and 15 RBI in 34 games for the O’s last season.

Even with potential replacements coming up through the minors, conventional wisdom seems to dictate that keeping Huff is vital as the Orioles look to build a contender.

There is no question that MacPhail is committed to using young talent to bring the Orioles back to contention.  However, most teams that have ridden a youth movement to championship success have done so by combining their young talent with enough experienced veterans to ensure that the team is able to withstand the rigors of a 162-game season.

Aubrey Huff

Image by Keith Allison via Flickr

Huff not only provides veteran leadership and stability at first base, but also has left-handed power in a park that caters to lefties.

If MacPhail was unsure of whether he can resign Huff and decided to shop him around, you can expect that his phone would ring off the hook with calls from teams looking for another veteran run producer.

In fact, when Carlos Delgado went down for the Mets in early May, Huff was quickly mentioned as a possible replacement.

The recent rejuvenation of the Orioles could have bearing on any decision MacPhail makes about Huff’s short-term future.

Even if he is not committed to keeping Huff beyond this season, MacPhail could be tempted to hold on to Huff long enough to see if the Orioles can parlay their infusion of youth into their first winning season in more than a decade and perhaps even a run at a wild card spot.

If the team then suffered their traditional August meltdown, Huff could still be traded before the September trading deadline. Granted, the longer he would wait to trade Huff, the less likely it is that a trade would yield a grade-A prospect, but the risk would be worth it to see just how good the Orioles can be this year.

From Jim Gentile, Boog Powell and Lee May to Eddie Murray and Rafael Palmeiro, the Orioles have a tradition of great first basemen.

Here’s hoping that Aubrey Huff sticks around long enough to add his name to that distinguished list.

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  1. Altitude

    June 3, 2009 at 9:32 am

    I agree that the O’s have a great history of 1 baggers. Some really great names on that list. I don’t think the team is willing to spend the money for Huff though.

    This team scares me though. Some great pitching prospects, and I think Wieters is going to be dangerous.

    I would trade Huff for some outfield prospects or pen depth and concentrate on competiting in that tough division in 2010 and 2011.

  2. Nick Kappel

    June 3, 2009 at 5:11 pm

    Didn’t I see this piece on Bleacher Report not too long ago? Haha…nice work Dean.

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