© 2009 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.
SAN FRANCISCO -- Rich Aurilia said that earlier this offseason, the Houston Astros offered him a guaranteed Major League contract, which is the type of deal that has eluded most free agents. Aurilia also received interest from the Chicago Cubs, Philadelphia Phillies and Toronto Blue Jays.
But in the end, Aurilia returned to his true baseball home, signing a one-year Minor League contract with the Giants on Monday. The 37-year-old infielder has been invited to Major League Spring Training, giving him a chance to extend his Giants tenure to 11 years in 14 big league seasons.
"I'm happy I'm a Giant and hopefully I can finish my career with the Giants, whether it's this year or whenever," said Aurilia, a popular figure among fans, in the clubhouse and within the organization. "I have a lot of pride in putting on that uniform. I hope people are as excited about this as I am."
A .277 lifetime hitter, Aurilia ranks among the top 10 in several categories during the Giants' San Francisco era (since 1958), including hits (sixth, 1,200), games (sixth, 1,232), doubles (seventh, 230) and RBIs (10th, 558).
More than sentiment brought Aurilia and the Giants together again. With rookies or near-rookies projected to start at first base (Travis Ishikawa or John Bowker), second base (Kevin Frandsen, Emmanuel Burris or Eugenio Velez) and third base (Pablo Sandoval), Aurilia should provide depth and stability for San Francisco with his versatility and experience. He can play all four infield spots, though he'll probably spend most of his time at the corners, because Juan Uribe, another veteran big leaguer who's in camp on a Minor League deal, probably will back up at second base and shortstop.
The infield landscape would change if the Giants signed free-agent third baseman Joe Crede, whom they have reportedly offered a one-year contract. But Aurilia's signing indicates that the Giants doubt they can close a deal with Crede.
Aurilia has entered Spring Training penciled in as a reserve in his past four seasons with Cincinnati and the Giants yet has averaged 119 games and 401 at-bats per year in that span, reflecting his ability to step in if others falter. Last year, for example, he started 49 games at first base and 50 at third.
Aurilia also hit .283 with 10 home runs and 52 RBIs last season. His performance included a .321 average against left-handed pitchers, 15th best in the National League. That, as much as anything, prompted the Giants to bring him back because they need right-handed hitting help.
In most other years, Aurilia might not have had to accept a Minor League deal. He'll earn $1 million if he makes the Opening Day roster, considerably less than the $4.5 million he received last season in the second year of a two-year, $8 million deal.
But given the stagnant free-agent market and blessed with a veteran's perspective, Aurilia had no complaints. He mentioned that he preferred to avoid being forced to adjust -- along with his wife, Raquel, and two sons -- to a new team.
"Of course, I would have liked a [40-man] roster spot," he said. "But I'm confident in my performance. ... When you get to this point in your career, you weigh other things that are important, like your family."