By Christopher Heun
This is a case of who’s on first vs. who could have been on first.
The Orioles have been searching for a power-hitting first baseman ever since Rafael Palmeiro left Baltimore the first time, after the 1998 season, possibly to find some clean needles. The search will continue after the season. (For a slugger, I mean, although Raffy may still be juicing and working on that comeback. Who knows?)
Here’s a guy the Birds almost signed last winter but didn’t:
Carlos Pena (2007): 418 AB, 37 HR, .615 SLG
And here’s three guys the Birds chose to use at first base and DH instead:
Aubrey Huff (2007): 479 AB, 15 HR, .438 SLG
Kevin Millar (2007): 393 AB, 14 HR, .430 SLG
Jay Gibbons (2007): 270 AB, 6 HR, .348 SLG
And here’s three other guys the Birds could have had this season:
Adam LaRoche (2007): 489 AB, 21 HR, .462 SLG
Jack Cust (2007): 329 AB, 23 HR, .523 SLG
Josh Phelps (2007): 139 AB, 7 HR, .525 SLG
What makes this sting even more is that Millar is just 13 plate appearances away from vesting his 2008 option, meaning that all three of the ill-fated triumvirate of Huff-Millar-Gibbons are signed for next year.
But back to the present. Carlos Pena hit two home runs, including a grand slam, against Orioles pitchers Wednesday night, to give him 37 HR and 105 RBI for the season, his first in Tampa Bay. In his last nine games, six of which were against the Birds, Pena has hit seven home runs.
Lest you accuse me of cherry-picking stats in his favor, consider that it weren’t for those very same games with Tampa Bay, Aubrey Huff’s numbers would look even worse than they do already. Seven of Huff’s 15 homers have come against his former team; he is batting .390 against them, compared to .258 against the rest of major league pitching.
In other words, in 112 games not against Tampa Bay this season, Huff is batting .258 with 8 homers. For this he is receiving nearly $20 million over three years.