It has been a funny offseason for us here at Rays Colored Glasses. Usually there is enough of a lull in the action that we end up discussing the history of the team, but this time around, trade after trade has left us with plenty to talk about. Nevertheless, it is always nice to reflect back upon how the Tampa Bay Rays got to this point by looking at some notable players in their history and where they have ended up. After discussing John Flaherty and Randy Winn in previous pieces, we will talk about Aubrey Huff today.
Huff, a fifth round pick by the Devil Rays in 1998, arrived with the big league team on August 2, 2000. In limited time, he made an impact, hitting .287 with 4 homers and 14 RBI in 129 plate appearances. His official rookie year was considerably rockier. He was third among AL rookies in extra-base hits (34), but he also led them in errors (20) and hit just .248 with a .288 on-base percentage.
Huff started 2002 in the minor leagues between a broken cheekbone and poor performance. However, he was an entirely different player when he resurfaced in late May, delivering a .313/.364/.520 line with 25 doubles, 23 homers, and 59 RBI in 494 plate appearances. Even though he played in just 113 games, he led the D-Rays in home runs, and he was just getting started.
Huff was an offensive force on the Rays in 2003 as he hit to a .311/.367/.555 line. His 47 doubles were third in the AL, his 198 hits were fifth, and his .311 batting average and 34 homers both ranked ninth. He also drove in 107, setting the franchise record for RBI. For his efforts, Huff finished 24th in the AL MVP voting, receiving four votes despite playing for a last-place team.
Huff delivered another strong year in the middle of the D-Rays’ lineup in 2004, as evidenced by his .296/.360/.493 triple-slash with 27 doubles, 29 homers, and 104 RBI. Huff would struggle throughout 2005 as he slipped to a .261/.321/.428 line, but he still mustered 22 home runs and 95 RBI.
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Then, in 2006, Huff had delivered a solid first half of the season for Tampa Bay before he was acquired by the Houston Astros on July 12th. The headliner of the trade at the time was right-hander Mitch Talbot, but the more memorable player was a future staple of the Rays’ lineup, Ben Zobrist. Huff gave the Rays plenty during his tenure with the team, but interestingly enough, yielding Zobrist is his lasting legacy.
Huff would only play the rest of the season for the Astros as he signed with the Rays’ division-rival Baltimore Orioles in 2007. His first season did not go well, but he looked as strong as ever in 2008, hitting to .304/.360/.552 line with 48 doubles, 32 homers, and 108 RBI. He did so well that he won the Edgar Martinez Outstanding DH of the Year Award.
Sadly, Huff fell to earth in a big way in 2009 and was eventually traded to the Detroit Tigers on August 17th. After a poor stint in Detroit, Huff was in search of a new home, but two of his past three years had been lackluster and 2009 had been especially bad. His .241 average was his worst in the major leagues while his .310 OBP and .384 SLG were his worst since 2001.
Huff had to settle for a one-year, $3 million deal with the San Francisco Giants, but that ended up working out fine for him. He would be a valuable member of their team as he hit to a .290/.385/.506 line with 35 doubles, 26 homers, and 86 RBI. He then hit .294 with a homer and 4 RBI in the World Series as the Giants beat the Texas Rangers in 5 games.
Huff slipped considerably in 2011 and struggled through an anxiety disorder as a failed to crack the Mendoza line in 2012. Luckily for him, he lasted just long enough to get his second World Series ring when the Giants beat the St. Louis Cardinals in even more improbable fashion in 2012.
After retirement, Huff briefly joined a Bay Area Sports radio show called Bucher, Towney, and Huff from March until August in 2014. He would adamantly root for the Giants throughout the 2014 playoffs, even declaring that he would wear his once legendary rally undergarments in support of the team.
Aubrey Huff was arguably the best power hitter the Devil Rays ever had and his stats still rank among the best in Rays history today. He will be remembered as an early great for the Rays organization who helped bring in a future cornerstone in Ben Zobrist. From his beginnings on the Devil Rays to his second World Series ring in his last season, Huff had quite the career.