Huff and Giants finalize $3-million deal
SAN FRANCISCO – The San Francisco Giants landed a new left-handed cleanup hitter – and Aubrey Huff made a good-natured reference to the slugger who used to hold the spot.
“Listen, if Barry Bonds hit home runs there, I can, right?” Huff joked of the home run king’s feats in San Francisco’s pitcher-friendly ballpark.
The Giants and Huff completed their $3 million, one-year contract Wednesday after the first baseman passed a physical. The sides agreed to terms last weekend.
General manager Brian Sabean made it known finding a lefty power hitter to help upgrade the offense was one of the most important things still on his to-do list before the start of spring training next month.
“The more we examined what he has done and what we need, we thought this would be a good fit,” Sabean said during a conference call. “He’s a No. 4 hitter and a run producer, and he’s got the criteria being left-handed.”
The Giants had been in negotiations with Adam LaRoche and reportedly made him a hefty offer, but nothing materialized.
“It was a good twist of fate where our other avenues didn’t end up being pursued,” Sabean said. “We’re happy it turned out this way.”
Huff struggled offensively last season and batted a career-worst .241. He was traded from Baltimore to Detroit in August and the switch didn’t work out well. He wound up with 15 homers and 85 RBIs in 150 games between the two teams.
The Giants are counting on Huff returning to his 2008 form, when he hit .304 with 32 home runs and a career-best 108 RBIs.
“It was a very good year. I was proud of that year,” said Huff, who would rather put 2009 behind him.
He’s ready for a fresh start with the Giants.
Huff is a career .282 hitter with 203 homers and 752 RBIs and a .340 on-base percentage in 10 seasons with Tampa Bay, Houston, Baltimore and Detroit.
“I’ve always loved the West Coast, being in the American League East my whole life,” Huff said. “It’s a nice change of pace. To be able to come out to the West Coast and play National League ball is something I’ve always wanted to do my whole life. It just makes sense to me.”
The plan is for Huff to start at first base, but he gives manager Bruce Bochy flexibility based on the fact he can also play third and the outfield. Pablo Sandoval will play third base and bat third.
“Now we have one of the best young hitters in the game in the 3 hole,” Bochy said of the free-swinging Sandoval.
Huff will get work in both left field and right during spring training. Huff joins recently signed infielder/outfielder Mark DeRosa, who will be the primary left fielder. He received a $12 million, two-year contract to join the Giants in late December.
With the addition of Huff, the lineup is shaping up: Aaron Rowand leading off, then Freddy Sanchez, Sandoval, Huff and DeRosa.
“Which gives us a punch, a presence,” Bochy said.
San Francisco will be eager to have Huff’s steady offense. The Giants ranked 29th out of the 30 major league teams for home runs in 2009 with 122, ahead only of the New York Mets (95). They also were 26th in runs with 657.
Sabean considered bettering the offense a key to the club ending a six-year playoff drought.
San Francisco was in the NL wild-card chase well into September, but hasn’t been to the postseason since 2003. At 88-74 in 2009, the Giants won 16 more games than in 2008.
Sabean thinks his offense will be improved.
“Our goal is to win the division. It’s not going to be easy to win 88 games. We have to catch two clubs,” he said. “I think it’s improved but it still has to translate on the field, and the players are responsible for that. And we have more depth. We’re getting closer to feeling we’re all that much stronger than last year.”