Giants sign Huff to bat cleanup

Giants sign Huff to bat cleanup

SAN FRANCISCO -- Giants manager Bruce Bochy used 134 different lineups last year. Ideally, that total will shrink significantly this season.

The Giants believe that the addition of first baseman Aubrey Huff, whose signing of a one-year, $3 million contract became official Wednesday, increases their chances of maintaining a relatively set starting eight -- a luxury that has eluded Bochy in his three-year tenure with San Francisco.

Tentatively, center fielder Aaron Rowand will lead off, followed by second baseman Freddy Sanchez. Pablo Sandoval, previously penciled in as the cleanup hitter, will instead return to the No. 3 spot. Newcomers Huff and Mark DeRosa, who'll play mostly left field, will bat fourth and fifth, respectively.

Speaking during a conference call to herald Huff's signing, Bochy optimistically said that the Sandoval-Huff-DeRosa combination potentially gives the Giants' offense "punch, a presence" -- qualities they desperately need after ranking 13th in scoring, 15th in home runs and last in OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) among National League teams a year ago.

That leaves the sixth, seventh and eighth spots for shortstop Edgar Renteria, right fielder Nate Schierholtz -- the apparent favorite to claim that position -- and catcher Buster Posey, who still could begin the season at Triple-A Fresno if the Giants sign a free agent.

Though news of San Francisco's agreement with Huff initially leaked Sunday night, Wednesday's chat still provided fresh material when Bochy and general manager Brian Sabean discussed the ballclub. Issues they addressed included:

• The batting order. Bochy subscribes to the widely held theory that a team's best all-around hitter should bat third, explaining why Sandoval will fill that role for the second year in a row. Besides, Bochy added, "It's hard to put somebody in that four-hole who doesn't have experience." Huff fills that requirement, having hit cleanup in 2,238 of his 5,444 career plate appearances.

Lacking a prototypical leadoff batter, the Giants will ask Rowand to handle that job. He started 49 games at leadoff last year and thrived briefly before a slump left his batting average from the No. 1 spot at a still-respectable .294.

"It's not etched in stone," Bochy said of Rowand's leadoff duties. "But that's the thought now."

Now batting ...
The Giants' projected 2010 batting order.
Pos. Player
CF Aaron Rowand
2B Freddy Sanchez
3B Pablo Sandoval
1B Aubrey Huff
LF Mark DeRosa
SS Edgar Renteria
RF Nate Schierholtz
C Buster Posey
• Huff's role. Contrary to speculation, the Giants would prefer not to platoon at first base, with the left-handed-batting Huff sitting against left-handed starters.

"With your fourth hitter, you want him out there as much as you can," Sabean said.

Bochy said that Huff, who has played 245 games as an outfielder, may play left field when Travis Ishikawa starts at first base. That might happen from time to time at home, given Ishikawa's robust .349 batting average at AT&T Park last year.

"Travis is still part of this club," Bochy said.

Though Huff has played right field in all but eight of his games as an outfielder, Bochy indicated that the size and difficulty of AT&T Park's expanse in right might make the opposite corner more suitable for the 10-year veteran.

"To be able to come to the West Coast and play National League ball is something I've always wanted to do," said Huff, who has played all but 68 of his 1,322 games in the American League. He spent the second half of the 2006 season with Houston. "It's something different, a change of pace. You always want to be challenged in some other area."

• More moves. A report on Twitter from Diario Meridiano in Venezuela said that catcher Yorvit Torrealba and the Giants maintain mutual interest in reuniting. First, Torrealba wants to finish participating for Bravos de Margarita in the Venezuelan Winter League round-robin playoff. The Bravos could be eliminated as early as Sunday.

According to Meridiano's tweet, Torrealba confirmed that he intends to meet with the Giants, his first professional organization. The Giants initially contacted Torrealba early in the offseason.

Giants officials and Torrealba's agent, Melvin Roman, could not be reached for comment. One industry insider with knowledge of the club's functionings said that a Torrealba signing, if one occurs, would not be immediate.

Earlier Wednesday, Sabean didn't rule out signing a catcher, though he said that he's content to wait for "somebody left without a place to go."

This offseason, the Giants have wavered between handing Posey the starting catcher's job and pursuing a veteran who could handle the position for one season while Posey gains more experience in Triple-A.

"At this time, we are prepared to go to Posey," Sabean said. "But we'll keep an open mind."

Despite the specter of expensive salary arbitration cases involving two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum, closer Brian Wilson and prized left-hander Jonathan Sanchez, Sabean said that the Giants had enough payroll "flexibility" to sign not only a catcher but also a veteran reliever to complement youngsters such as Sergio Romo, Dan Runzler and Waldis Joaquin. Sabean said that obtaining a reliever takes precedence over securing another starter, further affirming rookie left-hander Madison Bumgarner's status as the top candidate to claim the rotation's No. 5 spot.

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.