Expectations for Aubrey Huff entering this season were reasonably low. He would be in his mid-30s, and a healthy dose of regression was inevitable, coming off of his incredible 2010 season. Out of nowhere, he had managed to hit .290/.385/.506 (.388 wOBA, 143 wRC+) on a measly one-year $3MM deal; he had posted the best walk rate of his career (12.4%) by far, and had even managed to steal seven bases without being caught at all. What’s more, he’d held his own defensively in the outfield — a position he hadn’t played since 2006 — after being asked to move there on short notice. He was, of sorts, the emblem of the Giants’ 2010 championship story, rally thong and all: a cheap one-year signing that had instantly revived his career with an all-star caliber season.
On November 23rd, the Giants rewarded him with a two-year $22MM contract; I’ve thought about this one a lot, and revisited it a while back. Conclusion: it was perfectly justifiable:
On November 23rd, the Giants re-signed Aubrey Huff to a two-year $22MM deal — one that was made, I think, under a few assumptions:
1. That Brandon Belt was not major-league ready; he had only played in thirteen games in Triple-A in 2010, and the organization is generally strong when it comes to internal scouting evaluations, so this seems like a fair — albeit early — assumption.
2. Aubrey Huff could fake it in the outfield. In 2010, his defense in the outfield was passable, and the Giants had strong defensive outfielders (Cody Ross, Andres Torres, Aaron Rowand, Nate Schierholtz) surrounding him, so this was also (arguably) a reasonable assumption.
3. Huff would be okay in 2011; again, another justifiable assumption. From 2008-2010, he had averaged ~2.5 WAR/600 PA, and the contract paid him — at market value — like an average player ($10MM/yr).
Unfortunately, there’s no greater emblem of the Giants’ offensive struggles this season than Aubrey Huff. One of the few Giants to remain healthy throughout the entire season, Huff struggled at the plate day after day:
His .676 OPS was the worst ever by a San Francisco Giants first baseman (min. 502 PAs), and it’s not even particularly close. All in all, he made a strong case for the National League’s least valuable player, and Tyler Kepner of the New York Times even named him such. It was an awful season, far worse than I’d have ever expected (in fact, I had him penciled in for a pretty respectable .280/.350/.460 this year).
His struggles came at quite a price, too: in addition to his integral role as a member of one of the worst-hitting teams in recent history, the organization’s handling of Huff created a poor environment for Brandon Belt’s development. Huff was penciled in the lineup on a daily basis, with Belt tossed aside as somewhat of an afterthought. Belt’s inconsistent playing time — as he was yo-yoed between the majors and the minors — most likely made it harder for him to work through his struggles at the major-league level, and it’s pretty easy to point at Huff, or rather, the way the organization handled Huff, as a major roadblock in Belt’s maturation.
The one positive aspect of Huff’s season that’s mostly overlooked is his solid defense at first base. FRAA, the defensive metric based on objective play-by-play data, had Huff at +7.1 runs above average, and he’s pretty good at scoops.
Nevertheless, his season was nothing more than a massive disappointment, and one of the major reasons the Giants missed out on the playoffs this year. It’s hard not to be frustrated with both Huff and the way he was handled this year, especially since news came out that he was out of shape this season.