<
>

Astros deal two minor-leaguers for Huff

HOUSTON -- The Houston Astros acquired third baseman Aubrey Huff from the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for two minor league prospects Wednesday, hoping the Texan can help revive the Astros' struggling offense.

The Astros, who also got some cash in the deal, are tied for last in the National League in batting average.

"This will give us an offense boost which we sorely need,"
Astros general manager Tim Purpura said.

The 30-year-old Huff, who went to high school and junior college in Texas, hit .283 with eight home runs and 28 RBI in 63 games for
the Devil Rays this season. He has been the subject of trade
speculation each of the past three years.

In his sixth major league season, Huff has a career average of
.287 with 128 home runs and 449 RBI.

Houston will pay $1.4 million of the $3 million that remains on the final year of Huff's contract. Tampa Bay will pay the rest,
Purpura said. The Devil Rays get right-hander Mitch Talbot and
infielder Ben Zobrist from the Astros' system. Both players will
report to Double-A Montgomery.

Huff is Tampa Bay's career leader in games (798), at-bats (3,016), runs (399), hits (868), doubles (173), home runs (128), extra-base hits (307) and RBI (449). He's hit 20 or more home runs four times and is one of five left-handed hitters -- along with David Ortiz, Carlos Delgado, Hideki Matsui and Bobby Abreu -- to average 100-plus RBI the past three seasons.

Purpura said getting Huff was a "great first step" in making a
push during the second half of the season.

"We're certainly within striking distance if we play better
baseball," he said.

Houston, the reigning NL champions, is just 7-13 since June 18. But the Astros are coming out of the All-Star break in better shape than last year, when they were 44-43 and 11½ games behind the St. Louis Cardinals. This year they are only six games back of the Cardinals.

To make room for Huff, Houston will send outfielder Jason Lane to Triple-A Round Rock. Lane has struggled in the Astros lineup, batting only .205 this season.

Purpura said Huff's arrival could also affect third baseman Morgan Ensberg, who has also struggled at the plate. Besides third base, Huff has also played first base and the outfield.

"Obviously it will cut into [Ensberg's] playing time," he
said. "We're in a position where we have to start moving forward.
We can't give bats to players because they have been in that spot
before. We have to get production and performance out of our
players."

The last-place Devil Rays have made two major trades in the past
two weeks, with both deals making one of the youngest rosters in
the majors even younger.

On June 27, Tampa Bay sent left-handed pitcher Mark Hendrickson, catcher Toby Hall and cash to the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange
for starting pitcher Jae Seo and catcher Dioner Navarro.

"While there are positives we can take away from the improvement we made during the first half, to accept where we are is to accept mediocrity," Devil Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said. "Our goal is to build a
competitive team that we can sustain."

The last-place Devil Rays (39-50) played .123 percentage points better than a year ago prior to the All-Star break -- the third-best
improvement in the majors behind the Detroit Tigers and the
Colorado Rockies.