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Trading for Huff gives Tigers the bat they need

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Jon Paul Morosi

Jon Paul Morosi is a National MLB Writer for FOXSports.com. He previously covered baseball for the Detroit Free Press and Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He began his journalism career at the Bay City Times in his native Michigan. Follow him on Twitter.

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Aubrey Huff is on his way to Detroit, bringing with him the middle-of-the-order bat the Tigers have coveted for weeks.
Magglio Ordonez, whose underproduction magnified the team's need for offense, won't be released in order to clear a roster spot, according to team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski. But there is most certainly a link between the two players — at least, when it comes to counting the number of plate appearances Ordonez would need for his 2010 team option to vest. Dombrowski said Huff will be in the lineup on a regular basis. It's not clear if he will play the same position consistently, but Dombrowski pointed out that Huff has experience at first base, third base, left field and designated hitter. With this move, manager Jim Leyland has more lineup versatility than at any other time this season, particularly since Carlos Guillen's right shoulder has healed enough for him to play in the field. Guillen could start in left field, with Huff at DH. Or Huff could play left and Guillen could be the DH.

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Either way, Ordonez would be left with only two options: right field, where he is a below-average defender, and the bench. To clarify: Ordonez is hitting .271 with seven home runs and 37 RBIs this year. He has performed better lately, but his power numbers are down considerably from previous seasons. And he's not as good defensively as Clete Thomas or Ryan Raburn. But he only needs 80 more plate appearances in order to guarantee his $18 million salary for next year. Ordobz's agent, Scott Boras, has hinted at the possibility of filing a grievance if he is released short of the threshold. The team would owe Ordonez $3 million if it buys out the option. But unless his playing time declines precipitously, the '06 postseason hero and '07 batting champ is going to reach the trigger for plate appearances (1,080 combined between last season and this season). Recently, he's been getting close to everyday at-bats in right field. For example, according to Baseball-Reference.com, he's already had 46 plate appearances in 12 games this month — with a .356 average. One Ordonez statistic that isn't so favorable: He leads the team in double plays grounded into (16) despite playing in about 20 fewer games than some other regulars. Huff would be a natural fit for the third spot in Detroit's lineup. That's where Thomas (eight career home runs) has been playing recently. And if Huff provides additional offense in the No. 3 hole, the team could rationalize carrying a lighter-hitting, better-defending right fielder in the bottom third of the order. That would be one way to reduce Ordonez's playing time. And frankly, it might give the Tigers a better chance to win. The Tigers play in the major league city most affected by the decline in the auto industry and economy at large, but team owner Mike Ilitch has continued spending money on his roster. The Tigers have assumed the remaining $2 million on Huff's contract this year, in addition to the $3.5 million that came with left-hander Jarrod Washburn on July 31. The $2 million investment in Huff is significant for the Tigers, particularly when considering they already had one of the highest payrolls in baseball. It brings the sort of left-handed hitting they have lacked in the middle of the order for some time. And that $2 million might also buy them enough productive at-bats to save the $15 million outlay on Ordonez for next year. A wise trade, indeed.
Tagged: Orioles, Tigers, Carlos Guillen, Aubrey Huff, Clete Thomas

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