Hey there, hardball fans. The first games of the season are less than a week away, and plenty of teams are making final decisions about the last roster spots up for grabs. In this week’s Roster Report, we’re focusing on two late-spring changes to two contending teams on the West Coast. One team is moving a veteran to the outfield to make room for a power-hitting first baseman, while another team is putting a vet on the bench to make room for their own slugging 1B.
Aubrey Huff has been playing left field recently for the San Francisco Giants.
With Aubrey Huff getting in extra playing time in the outfield, it looks like more and more of a possibility that Huff could log extended time in the outfield this season. The move from first base to left field would probably open up time for Brandon Belt at first. Belt is a tremendous prospect, with most projection systems positing that he’ll hit for at least .350 wOBA already, in his age-24 season. It wouldn’t be unreasonable for Belt to post 20 or more homers and a .350 OBP while playing good defense at first base. Keeping him out of the lineup last season was a travesty, and the Giants lineup is starved for a powerful run producer of Belt’s caliber.
Aubrey Huff, despite his mammoth 2010, is no longer the type of hitter Brandon Belt is. In full-time action last season, Huff managed only an 84 wRC+. To put that in perspective, Huff was about 16% worse than a league-average hitter. But not only that, Huff’s a bad fielder. In the outfield, Huff has never had any sustained success with the leather. Don’t get me wrong, Huff probably isn’t an epic disaster in the field a la Raul Ibanez, but he’s not good. To put things in perspective, last season when Huff played out there, someone drew a chalk outline in the outfield. But a player who doesn’t hit very well, and is going to be average at best in the field, probably shouldn’t be an everyday player. If it wasn’t for Huff’s sizable contract (and loyalty from the 2010 World Series run), it seems unlikely that he’d be a regular starter.
This moves poor Nate Schierholz back into a reserve role, as Melky Cabrera would move over to right field. Historically, Nate’s been an above-average fielder in right, and last season, Schierholz finally put together an above-average season with the bat as well. A triple slash line of .278/.326/.430 is nothing to sneeze at, though it won’t win any MVP awards. In truth, Schierholz is a better player than Huff at this stage in his career, so playing Huff over Schierholz in the outfield isn’t maximizing the team’s assets. However, instead of looking at things from that perspective, if Huff needs to be in the lineup, one could view this as replacing Schierholz with Belt. And Brandon Belt is far too good of a player to be resigned to the San Francisco bench.
Kendrys Morales will (probably) be the Opening Day DH for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
After almost two years off the playing field, Kendrys Morales appears to be healthy and ready to play for the Angels. You might remember that Morales injured his ankle in a freak home-run-celebration accident back in 2010, and he’s been trying to get himself back on the field ever since. Most of the reports out of Spring Training indicate that Morales is ready to go, and he’s been seeing the ball well in Spring Training thus far, actually seeing game action yesterday. All things point to Morales opening camp with the big league club, and that’s good news, given that Kendrys has proven himself to be a solid hitter in his 1240 big league plate appearances. Morales has power, having hit 55 home runs in his limited big-league action, including 34 HR in a solid 2009 campaign. He’s substantially better than league average as a hitter, and sports a career wRC+ of 114, which puts him solidly above league-average.
Morales would be replacing Bobby Abreu as the everyday DH for the Angels. Abreu, who’s reportedly unhappy about losing out on everyday playing time, wasn’t particularly good in 2011. Though Abreu still draws a mean walk, he’s no longer a threat to hit for lots of power. Abreu still steals bases (21 in 2011), but is a net negative baserunner. And yes, he’s a horrible fielder. According to UZR, Abreu hasn’t been an above-average fielder since 2003, and he’s been downright awful in most seasons.
Abreu is in the twilight of his career, and Morales is still in the prime of his own. If Kendrys is ready to play, he’s an upgrade over every other option in house for the Angels. Whether it is Abreu, Mark Trumbo, Alberto Callaspo, or Maicer Izturis, Morales still remains the best DH option that the Angels have. As long as he’s healthy, he’s proven he can hit.