The Tigers added the bat they've been seeking and arguably needing for most of the summer, acquiring Huff from the Orioles on Monday for Class A right-hander Brett Jacobson. Detroit's second trade acquisition in 2 1/2 weeks will join the Tigers for their next game Tuesday night against the Mariners.
The hope from there is that he can provide a spark for an offense that has struggled to score runs for most of the season, well before a 3-2 extra-innings loss to the Royals on Sunday that included 10 runners left on base. That spark at the plate could be the difference that separates the Tigers from the three-team scrum around the American League Central, a division the Tigers have led since mid-May, but never by more than a handful of games.
Even after the Tigers made a splash at the July 31 nonwaiver Trade Deadline, adding left-handed starting pitcher Jarrod Washburn to their already formidable rotation, the offense was seemingly the big question mark. Once Huff passed through waivers earlier this month, the soon-to-be free agent became the answer, though fitting him into Detroit's lineup becomes the next question.
"For us with Huff, he adds another left-handed bat to our ballclub, a middle-of-the-lineup type hitter," team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said in a conference call Monday. "He's been a quality Major League hitter for an extended period. He brings a good presence to our lineup and adds another good bat to our team. We've worked on trying to get a bat for a while."
That bat has traditionally been better than this year's stats would suggest. The 32-year-old Huff owns a .253 average in 110 games this season for Baltimore, hitting 13 home runs with 72 RBIs.
The RBIs are important, because he's batting .324 with runners in scoring position. That production means something for a club that went 0-for-16 with runners in scoring position on Sunday.
"It's been a tough offensive year for our club," Dombrowski said. "I thought we would score more runs."
Dombrowski called Huff an infielder/outfielder, important semantics for a player who was exclusively a first baseman and designated hitter for the O's this year. His flexibility could be key for the Tigers, who might have to get creative to fit him in the same lineup as Carlos Guillen, who has been limited to DH and first base since coming back from his shoulder injury.
The Tigers hope Guillen can eventually return to left field, where he began the season, but it's far from certain when his shoulder will allow him to do that.
"He really did a tremendous job," Orioles president of baseball operations Larry MacPhail said. "When you think about what he did, he was our Most Valuable Player last year, he went and played a position for us this year and did a good job defensively. He can also play third and, occasionally, you can put him in the outfield if need be."
Dombrowski will leave that creativity up to manager Jim Leyland, but he ran off the list of positions where Huff has played in the past.
"He can play first. Of course, he's not going to play there on a regular basis," Dombrowski said. "He can play third if we decide to rest Inge. He has not played outfield since 2006, but he can play out there, and some people think that's his best position. That's something Jim will decide on a daily basis."
The move will not impact Inge's status, Dombrowski said. Though Inge has been bothered by patella tendinitis in his left knee all summer, he is not headed to the disabled list.
Huff, Dombrowski said, has indicated that he'll be happy to play wherever he can to help a contending team. The move to the Tigers gives him a chance at the postseason, where he has never been in his 10-year Major League career. He barely missed out with the 2006 Astros, his only team to have posted a winning season.
"I've been in last place basically my whole career, so this is an exciting time for me," Huff told reporters Monday in Baltimore. "I'm looking forward to it."
Huff spent 2000-06 with Tampa Bay before going to Houston in July of that year. He signed a three-year contract as a free agent that winter with the Orioles. Despite the lack of team success, Huff owns a .284 average and .818 OPS in 1,282 career games.
"He's always been a good hitter," Dombrowski said. "He's a guy that we tried to acquire numerous times in the past, because good left-handed hitters are hard to find. He's a guy that's a left-handed hitter that's a threat."
Dombrowski said the Tigers were not close to acquiring him last month. After that, it became apparent the price tag dropped once he passed through waivers. Dombrowski said they had shown interest in other players who did clear waivers.
Huff makes $8 million this season. The Tigers will pick up the remainder of his salary, as they're doing with Washburn.
The Tigers' other sacrifice, of course, was Jacobson, part of Detroit's crop of big, hard-throwing relievers from last year's First-Year Player Draft. He went 1-3 with a 3.74 ERA and six saves at Class A Lakeland, striking out 44 batters over 55 1/3 innings. However, the Tigers already have relievers Cody Satterwhite and Robbie Weinhardt at Double-A Erie, plus Scott Green in Lakeland.
"He has a good arm," Dombrowski said. "He's got good stuff. He's done a solid job out of the bullpen. He's not a guy we would like to give up, but considering we're getting a quality middle-of-the-lineup guy, we had to give up something to get him. I think he's got a shot to pitch in the big leagues."
The Tigers don't have to announce a roster move to put Huff on the 25-man roster until Tuesday. Dombrowski confirmed the move will not involve Magglio Ordonez, who struggled mightily early this season but has improved since the All-Star break.
The Tigers will fit Huff onto the 40-man roster by moving reliever Joel Zumaya to the 60-day disabled list. He's scheduled for surgery later this week to correct the stress fracture in his right shoulder.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.