The most vexing question facing the Giants at the trade deadline this year: What to expect out of Aubrey Huff down the stretch?
Just nine days ago, the Giants seemed content to let the deadline pass without a major shake-up. They’d opened the second half with a 7-1 record and were leading the Los Angeles Dodgers by 2½ games in the NL West standings.
But then Pablo Sandoval strained his left hamstring, the Dodgers traded for three-time All-Star Hanley Ramirez and the team dropped three in a row at home to the Boys in Blue, concluding with Sunday’s 4-0 loss. Now, the Giants are tied with L.A. for first place and the lineup suddenly looks like it could use some more pop.
It would be easier if the Giants had a single, glaring hole to fill. Brandon Belt has slumped at first base recently (he’s batting .172 in July), but the Giants aren’t going to give up on him completely. The new outfield has been a pleasant surprise, but Gregor Blanco and Angel Pagan’s current struggles raise questions about their stamina.
That’s why the Giants need a left-handed bat that hits for some power, and is comfortable playing first base or platooning in the outfield. Do you know anyone like that?
Of course, the Giants did when they signed Aubrey Huff to a two-year, $22 million contract in December 2010. During the World Series run, Huff provided exactly what the Giants are missing right now (.290, 26 HRs, 86 RBIs).
If he could regain his strut (Huff was activated from the disabled list Saturday), Brian Sabean could focus his trade efforts on acquiring an arm for the bullpen.
But the Giants don’t know what they’ll be getting with Huff. He’s 35, and returning from a stint on the disabled list (knee) after leaving earlier in the season because of anxiety issues. Redemption could be right around the corner, but so could his last big league at-bat.
Huff’s departure in late April would have been catastrophic for the Giants if Pagan hadn’t batted .375 through May, Cabrera wasn’t having an MVP-type season and Buster Posey hadn’t bounced right back from last year’s season-ending knee injury. But unexpected contributions from guys such as Blanco, Ryan Theriot and Hector Sanchez masked the void until Sandoval went down last week in the midst of slumps from Belt and Pagan. Now, a problem that’s been brewing since April is starting to bubble over.
To make matters worse, there isn’t an obvious player the Giants can rent for the last two months of the season to plug this hole. The names that are being tossed around — Hunter Pence, Shane Victorino and Justin Morneau — aren’t very appetizing. Pence is in the prime of his career, but he has two more arbitration years left and that would impact the Giants’ ability to re-sign Cabrera; Morneau has the power, but he hasn’t been the same player since a concussion more than two years ago; and Victorino is a multitooled player, but he’s battled through his own slumps this year.
Like Huff, each of these players has the potential to swing a big stick or go ice cold. So why waste a prospect when you can gamble with the guy sitting at the end of your bench?
Paul Gackle is a freelance writer and regular contributor to The San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at email@example.com.