Huff bound for Houston

Huff Houston-bound

HOUSTON -- Let the wheeling and dealing begin.

The Astros acquired outfielder Aubrey Huff and cash from the Devil Rays on Wednesday in exchange for right-hander Mitch Talbot and infielder Ben Zobrist, two Minor League prospects.

In addition, the Astros optioned outfielder Jason Lane to Triple-A Round Rock to make room for Huff on the big-league club. They also designated Minor League infielder Joe McEwing for assignment to create a spot for Huff on the 40-man roster.

"Huff brings our club a solid veteran professional hitter, something we've been looking for for quite some time," general manager Tim Purpura said. [He's] somebody we think can really inject some offense into our lineup."

Huff, a 29-year-old left-handed batter, was a regular in the middle of a young Devil Rays lineup. He was batting .283 (65-for-230) with eight home runs, 15 doubles and 28 RBIs in 63 games this season.

Huff was even better this season against the National League, hitting .453 (29-for-64) in Interleague Play -- the second-best mark in the Majors.

Yet, the most attractive part of Huff's game is his versatility. He's capable of playing the outfield and first base, though he's played 60 of his 63 games at third this season.

"I think he'll fit in well with [manager] Phil [Garner]," Purpura said, "because Phil likes to be creative, he likes to change things around, he likes to move guys around position-wise. I think we'll probably put him in a couple of different spots and see what works best for us."

Garner could work Huff around the Astros lineup, as well, to see where he fits best. The No. 5 slot behind Lance Berkman is one possibility, Garner said on Wednesday, although Huff batted cleanup 42 times with the Rays. He was also penciled in at least once from third through the seventh slot.

"He's a middle-of-the-order hitter," Purpura said. "He's a run producer, he's a power guy, he's a very proficient hitter."

Huff's been hot lately, too. He batted .359 (33-for-92) with three home runs and 13 RBIs in June. He's been even better this month with a .389 (14-for-36) mark and three homers in nine games.

Over his six-year career, Huff has hit better in the second half (.303 average, 71 homers, 239 RBIs) than the first (.273, 57, 210).

"His last two, three weeks, he's been on fire, and he's a very typical second-half hitter," Purpura said. "That's one of the attractive things we looked at. Year after year, his second halves are strikingly better than his first halves, so this is good timing for us to acquire him."

Huff is expected to be in the lineup on Thursday night when the Astros take on the Marlins at Dolphin Stadium.

So whose spot in the lineup will Huff be occupying?

Maybe third baseman Morgan Ensberg's.

"It's something we have to talk to Morgan about," Purpura said. "Obviously, [Huff's] going to cut into his playing time. The thing with Morgan is he hasn't admitted to having a lot of shoulder problems. He hurt his shoulder; I don't know if that's still affecting him."

Huff could see significant playing time in right field, where Lane played 67 games. But Lane, 28, struggled at the plate in the first half, batting a career-low .205 with 11 home runs and 30 RBIs.

He'll try to work out the kinks at Round Rock.

"Certainly, Jason is disappointed by it," Purpura said, "but I think he understands that we had to make a move to improve our ballclub. Our hope is to get Jason Lane back and get him squared away offensively, give him a chance to improve his skills defensively in center field and get him back to the big leagues."

The big-league payroll rose about $1.4 million with this trade. Now, it stands close to $106 million, the highest payroll in the National League and the third-highest in the Majors behind only the Yankees and Red Sox.

"Unbelievable numbers," Purpura said.

Talbot and Zobrist were putting up solid numbers at Double-A Corpus Christi. Talbot, a 22-year-old right-hander selected in the second round of the June 2002 First Year Player Draft, was 6-4 with a 3.39 ERA in 17 starts this season for the Hooks. He ranked seventh in the Texas League in ERA and third with 96 strikeouts.

Zobrist, a sixth-round selection in the '04, ranked second in the league in batting with a .327 average. He's been an All-Star in each of his professional seasons, including this year when he played in the Texas League All-Star Game in June.

Still, Purpura pulled off this trade without giving up a proven big-league talent.

"We were able to do this without taking a piece off that will help us," he said. "You're not changing 10 faces, you're changing two or three."

The bullpen could be seeing changes next.

"We're open to ideas," Purpura said. "There have been a few things that we've talked about. Absolutely, we have to get [closer] Brad [Lidge] straightened out. That's going to be a major source of conversation as to where do we go from here."

Kevin Yanik is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.