Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Huber is Lightning Rod for Royals Fans

Justin Huber is no longer a member of the Kansas City Royals organization, and many Royals fans are not happy, not happy at all.

In fact, as I'm writing this -- which, by the way, is not a rant about today's decision to part ways with Huber, but rather an examination of the issues behind the anger and frustration -- they're sitting in front of their computers, sipping on a can of Foster's*, and writing red-faced rants about how Dayton Moore is not the great general manager many of us (myself included) believe him to be.

They're angry about how this is yet another example of fizzled trades in which potential Royals stars are shipped off to other teams in exchange for the proverbial PTBNL -- that's Player to be Named Later for all you non-sports types who somehow got lost here, or for those who have had far too much Foster's prior to reading this.

*Huber is Australian, which is why I thought it would be humorous to create the image of angry fans sipping a can of the lager as they compose their rants. But, my brother traveled to the Land Down Under in college, and he reported to me that Australians actually don't drink Foster's at all. It's not even in the bars there, and I know my youngest brother well enough to trust he did an exhaustive study of a majority of the bars on that continent during his one month studying abroad. The company's slogan, "Foster's. Australian for Beer," is simply an American marketing campaign to sell a beer in the United States. Oh, and this is my second-ever Pozterisk.

So, what is it that has caused Justin Huber to be such a lightning rod among Royals fans? There are some very ardent Huber supporters out there, like Jeff of Royally Speaking, who will now be sponsoring the Baseball Reference page of a member of the San Diego Padres until February 28, 2009. In all fairness, Jeff's "rant" about Huber was incredibly under control, which surprised me when I saw that he had sponsored Huber's page.

I expected to check out his blog tonight and see a 5,000-word manifesto about how Dayton Moore sucks. Instead, he simply provided a quote from Moore about why he decided to trade Huber, and then took the liberty to disagree with Moore, calling the quote, "B.S...".

Here's the history. Huber was acquired by the Royals in a trade with the New York Mets on July 30, 2004. Kansas City sent utility player Jose Bautista to the Mets that day, and New York turned around and immediately traded Bautista to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

These days, Bautista is entering his second season as the Pirates' starting third baseman. But he only spent a month with the Royals after having his contract purchased from Tampa Bay, so remarkably, I haven't been able to find many rants about that move. Oh, and Crossing the Clemente, a "Pittsburgh Pirates blog celebrating the heroes of PNC Park," is the sponsor of Bautista's Baseball Reference page.

Back to Huber, who had been a catcher in the Mets organization. However, the day before the trade, he tore cartilage in his left knee. Then-general manager Allard Baird still went through with the trade, but Huber had surgery August 23 to repair the damage, and the Royals converted him to a first baseman in the process. He struggled to play first base, was tried in left field, and didn't fare much better, and the Royals haven't known exactly what to do with him since.

Offensively, Huber has some impressive credentials. He's represented Australia in international play, has been to numerous Minor League all-star games, and has batted .289/.369/.495 with 150 doubles, 12 triples, and 107 home runs during his seven seasons in the minors. The 2005 season was his finest, as he won the Texas League batting title (.343) for Class AA Wichita, and also played in Omaha (AAA), finishing the year with a combined line of .326/.417/.560, with 28 doubles, 23 homers, and 97 RBI.

But he has not been able to carry those numbers over to the Major League level. During that 2005 season, he played in 25 games for the Royals, getting his most extensive opportunity to make an impression. But he batted just .218/.271/.256 in 78 at bats, with only three doubles and 20 strikeouts.

The past two seasons, he's had a mere 20 at bats in a Royals uniform -- one of the biggest points of contention for those angry Foster's drinkers writing the rants -- but he's managed just three hits for a .150 average.

This spring, Huber was out of options, which meant the writing was on the wall. He needed to make the Royals' roster, or it was likely he'd be traded, and he did everything he could to try to make the team. Despite limited playing time, and playing him only in left field, Huber was impressive. He batted .346/.400/.615 in 26 at bats, with six runs scored, five doubles, a triple, and seven runs batted in.

He had finally caught the attention of a team in Major League Baseball, it just happened to be one other than the Kansas City Royals, and he was traded to the Padres for the aforementioned PTBNL.

It's understandable that people are upset with Kansas City for holding up Huber's career. The Royals spent the past few years playing Emil Brown, and giving Huber scant opportunity to make an impression. But I think the Royals' front office looked at Huber's Minor League numbers, versus the numbers he accumulated in his MLB at bats, and just determined that he didn't fit into their future.

It didn't help matters that Huber's defense in left field this spring was butcher-esque -- is that a word? -- perhaps even worse than Emil Brown's horrendous defense, if that's possible. Chalk that up to tough Arizona skies, and windy weather conditions during Spring Training. But I've noticed that the Padres' website has him listed as a first baseman again, which is where he should have been with the Royals if not for the likes of Ryan Shealy, Ross Gload, Billy Butler, and even Mark Teahen standing in his way at that position.

In the end, it just seems like Huber's three-plus years as a member of the Royals organization were wasted, which is where most of the anger stems from. But I trust Dayton Moore, his staff, the scouts, and all the other baseball people around him to make the right decision.

If Huber winds up as one of the top first basemen (or outfielders) in the National League someday, so be it. Dayton Moore isn't going to get every move right over his career. As someone astutely pointed out on a message board tonight, the best GMs are going to make mistakes, but they're going to make far more great decisions, and that's what I fully expect Moore to do.

For now, I think I'll just tip back a Foster's (actually, a Sierra Mist Free), do an "Aussie! Aussie! Aussie!" cheer in honor of the newest member of the San Diego Padres, and enjoy the fact that the Royals are continuing to move in the right direction, even without Justin Huber.

Justin Huber Photo Credit: Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images


Nathan said...

I agree that the Royals must have reached this decision by weighting Huber's minor league performance against his major league numbers. However, I disagree with the idea that this is reasonable when a player has had only 30-odd games of intermittent play at the MLB level. 98 AB is just not a significant sample. The real tragedy, as you allude to, is that the Royals were playing makeshift players like Emil Brown and Ross Gload at 1B and LF last year, so they had ample opportunity to let the indisputably talented Huber take a shot at securing an MLB job. They just didn't take that opportunity.

There's a strong chance that Huber won't develop into a good major league player, although I wish him well. The same is true for nearly any prospect. But by not taking a chance on him when they had nothing at all to lose, the Royals made a bad decision. I still like Dayton Moore, but it seems clear from the evidence available to us that Huber was ill-handled.

Michael A. Molde said...

I suppose it's true that he wasn't given a fair shot at cracking the lineup, but other than his eye-opening 2005 season, his Minor League numbers have been pretty consistent: about a .275 average, with 12-18 home runs, and a high strikeout total in relation to the number of at bats.

The fact of the matter is that, when he was in the midst of batting .326 and winning the Texas League batting crown in 2005, he was given a fairly decent amount of at bats and had the terrible line of .218/.271/.256.

Then, when the chances became more limited the following two years, he batted .200 in 2006 and .100 in 2007. So nothing jumped out at Royals management other than the impression that he was a very good Minor League hitter, who was very average at the Major League level, and he hadn't mastered any defensive position.

Thanks for the comments...

Jeff said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeff said...

Man I just knew I was gonna get named in this article. The "BS" quote was mostly in reference too Moore (who I like very much) saying he wished they had more time. I actually am working on one last Huber post but it won't be a rant (I hope). Your post was very well thought out and if I didn't have a monetary interest (b-r) in Huber I might just quietly let things be (but probably not).

Michael A. Molde said...

I hope you realize that it was all meant in jest, Jeff. For whatever reason, Huber just got some people really worked up. I know that your post the other day was simply calling Dayton out, which is why I clearly stated that you were under control, unlike some other posts I've seen on message boards, etc. It's funny how there are so many people out there who seem to think that they're better evaluators of talent than GMDM and his staff. Those same people are also better at making business decisions about what the Royals should and shouldn't do. Crazy.

Thanks for the comments.

Jeff said...

I know it was in jest and I'm not claiming to be a better talent evaluator than DM but the fact is we don't know anymore about Huber's big league potential than we did three years and 98 at bats ago.

Michael A. Molde said...

Jeff, I hope you didn't think that my comments about evaluating talent were directed at you. I mean, we all do our own evaluations of players' values, and come to our own conclusions. That's what message boards and blogs are for, right? They give us a voice, and an opportunity to reach a relatively wide audience.

I guess I'd just say that there are many more prospects who don't even get the chance to have 98 at bats at the Major League level. The fact that Huber batted a combined .204/.255/.245 with 26 strikeouts in 98 at bats for the Royals just did him in.

Is that fair? No, it's not. But he did have a chance, and I'd argue that if Justin Huber was as outstanding in the field as he has seemed to be at the plate (in the Minors and this ST), he might still be a Royal, and Esteban German might have been a Dodger by now.

Thanks again...

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