In this installment of the Players You Forgot Were Astros series, we look at the career of Aubrey Huff.
Nowadays, the name Aubrey Huff doesn’t conjure too many warm feelings among baseball fans. His use of social media has made him a pariah, with the San Francisco Giants excluding him from their reunion of their 2010 championship team thanks to several inflammatory tweets. Long before that, he was briefly (and somewhat regrettably) a member of the Houston Astros.
Huff broke into the majors with Tampa Bay in 2003, alternating between playing the corner infield and outfield positions. He broke out with a .313 average in 2005 and was a centerpiece of the Devil Rays’ lineup for the next few seasons. All told, he hit .287/.343/.477 with 128 homers in parts of seven seasons in Tampa.
The 2006 Astros were trying to follow up on their World Series appearance the year prior, but the offense needed a jolt. So on July 12, Astros GM Tim Purpura made what turned out to be a disastrous trade, acquiring the impending free agent Huff in exchange for minor leaguers Ben Zobrist and Mitch Talbot.
Talbot only threw 9.2 innings for Tampa, but Zobrist was the real prize. He was called up to the majors shortly after the trade and eventually became one of the most valuable utility players we’ve seen. He’s a three-time All-Star with 44.6 career WAR and a World Series MVP trophy with the Cubs.
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For his part, Huff wasn’t bad with the Astros, but he wasn’t great either. In 68 games following the trade, he hit .250/.341/.478 with 13 homers and 38 RBIs, playing right field, third base and first base. The Astros failed to reach the playoffs and Huff became a free agent.
Huff moved on to the Orioles, hitting .282/.341/.473 in about two and a half seasons. After a disastrous couple of months in Detroit, he landed in San Francisco and rebounded to finish seventh in the MVP voting. His last two seasons were less successful, but he came away with a pair of championship rings in his three seasons as a Giant.
The trade the Astros made to acquire him was one of several poor deals Purpura orchestrated. The club got a meager 0.2 WAR from Huff, while Zobrist provided 35.3 WAR to Tampa Bay over his nine seasons there, including an eighth-place MVP finish in 2009. The Houston farm system churned out little impact talent in the 2000s, so letting one of those slip away was a big reason why they ultimately had to rebuild.
Again, Huff wasn’t bad in Houston, but he failed to provide the type of jolt the team needed. The fact that Purpura gave up Zobrist to get him is what really makes the trade regrettable, and it would have to be in the conversation for the worst trade in franchise history.