Making their second trade of the day, the Royals dealt 24-year-old first baseman/outfielder Justin Huber to the Padres for a player to be named. The Royals accepted $50,000 from the Padres on May 1 in lieu of a player.
A remnant of the Allard Baird regime in Kansas City, Huber never seemed to have his backers in the organization once general manager Dayton Moore took over at the halfway point in 2006. Signed as a catcher out of Australia by the Mets in 2000, the righthanded batter showed his offensive potential right out of the gate, hitting .314 with power in a 2001 Rookie ball stint and following that up with a .291/.408/.470 showing for low Class A Capital City in 2002. It’s easy now to forget what a big deal he was, but Huber was a three-time Futures Gamer and MVP of the 2005 prospect showcase. What held him back was his stiffness behind the plate and his substandard throwing arm. That defensive deficiency ultimately led to his being traded by the Mets to the Pirates as the first leg of a larger deal that sent Kris Benson to New York at the 2004 trade deadline. While moving to first base full-time in 2005, Huber hit .343/.432/.570 for Double-A Wichita, leading the Texas League in all three categories and smacking 16 home runs. That performance earned him a big league callup to Kansas City, which at 78 at-bats turned out to be by far his longest exposure. The Royals tried Huber out in left field beginning in 2006 while with Triple-A Omaha, but he struggled to master the position. Two years and 20 big league at-bats later, Huber entered spring training out of options. Huber has batted .289/.369/.495 with 107 home runs in 2,396 minor league at-bats and .278/.354/.501 at the Triple-A level.
With a logjam at first base consisting of Ross Gload and Ryan Shealy, and possibly Billy Butler, the Royals opted to trade Huber rather than lose him to waivers. Lacking in general outfield punch, the Padres took a flier on Huber, and his line-drive bat and batting eye should serve him well in Petco Park, which punishes hitters who try to loft the ball. Huber’s acquisition muddles the Padres’ unresolved outfield situation even further. Brian Giles will start in right field and Jim Edmonds, when healthy, in center. Scott Hairston entered camp as the default left fielder, but he may be pushed to center if Edmonds can’t go. Jody Gerut and Paul McAnulty have caught the Padres’ attention this spring, but there isn’t room for both of them and Huber on the 25-man roster. Prospect Chase Headley also factors into the mix, though he will begin the year with Triple-A Portland.