22 Jan. 2009: Coming off a solid season in which he did not see much playing time in the second half, Orlando Hudson remained unsigned despite several teams needing help at second base, where he has established himself as a frontline player.
22. Jan 2010: Second verse, same as the first.
Hudson's extended availability after the 2008 season made a fair amount of sense. His extended absence in the second half was due to a dislocated wrist that required surgery, ending his season in early August. Even missing almost two months, Hudson was still a type-A free agent, and was offered arbitration by Arizona, giving teams another reason to be wary.
Indeed, Hudson wouldn’t sign with the Dodgers until 20 February, the day many pitchers and catchers reported.
This time around, Hudson’s availability is a little bit of a mystery. He was dinged up at the end of the season, but losing his playing time to Ronnie Belliard was based on something besides health and performance. Sure, Belliard was hot at the end of the year, but Hudson was a top-3 second baseman in 2009 and yet found himself riding pine.
The Dodgers didn’t handcuff Hudson the way the Diamondbacks did after the 2008 season, they didn’t offer him arbitration, making him a much more attractive target to thrifty teams that are opposed to giving up first-round picks.
At 5.4 wins above replacement player, Hudson was the 33rd most valuable player in baseball last year, equal to Joe Nathan, and more valuable than CC Sabathia, Shin-Soo Choo, Justin Verlander, or Aaron Hill. While he is more than respectable at the plate (9th highest VORP among second baseman with an above average EqA), Hudson’s value derives greatly from his skill afield.
Normally, my go-to defensive stat is Ultimate Zone Rating or UZR, and Hudson’s -3.3 runs below average in 2009 isn’t terrible, but I think it undervalues his skill. Clay Davenport’s Fielding Runs Above Average ranks him as 16 runs above average at second base*, which seems about right. He’s a plus defender, who doesn’t leave the bat at home. His injured groin almost certainly limited his lateral movement later in the season, which may have helped to depress his UZR, but something that isn’t likely to hang on into 2010.
*Necessary note: despite both being called “runs” the scale for UZR and FRAA is very different, so it isn’t that there’s a nearly 20 run discrepancy between the two, just that one ranks him as above average and the other slightly below. It looks like a big difference, but it’s a little bit of an optical illusion.
A career .282/.348/.431 hitter, Hudson is a prototypical top of the order hitter. He draws walks at an above average rate, makes good contact, and while he isn’t a power hitter by any definition, he’s not Jason Tyner or Adam Everett.
Which brings us to the Twins’ needs, namely, a slick-fielding second baseman and a high-OBP hitter to hit ahead of Mauer/Morneau/Kubel/Cuddyer. If you haven’t connected these dots yet, well, I can’t much help you.
If you believe that those really are the Twins’ needs (which, to a large extent, they are), then you’ve got to see Hudson as the answer. He’s a switch hitter, meaning he won’t contribute to the lefty block at the top of the order, and he’s a perfect hitter behind Span and ahead of Mauer.
The sticking point here, as it so often is, is cash monies (as the kids say). Lest ye tread the well-trodden path of “BLARG the Twins are too cheap to sign anyone!” it seems pertinent to look at the Twins’ finances at this point in the offseason. According to Joe C’s estimates at the Star Tribune, the Twins have sunk some $90 million into the payroll this year, which would raise them from 23rd to 14th in the payroll rankings (assuming no other team had spent money this offseason, the exact rankings won’t be known for weeks). Irrespective of rank, the Twins payroll is $23 million higher than last year, and that’s before Mauer’s new contract is announced.
Hudson’s contract requests are said to be at 1-year, $9 million, which would make him the fifth highest-paid Twin if he were to get it. Now, with most free agents, this time of year is when you see their prices drop (Mark DeRosa this year, Joe Crede last year, it’s a grand tradition), but O-Hud seems locked into his $9 million demands.
The Nationals, the other team mentioned in connection with O-Dawg, seem to have turned their eyes elsewhere after finding Hudson to be more or less intransigent. In an email, Baseball Prospectus’ John Perotto noted that Hudson was really unhappy with the way last offseason went, the way he was treated by Joe Torre, and as such, was determined to get paid like he thought he deserved to be paid.
Money is value, Hudson wants to be valued, so pay the man his money. I get that. It does make me wonder if he’d accept a multiyear deal for a lower average annual value. The Twins don’t have anyone waiting in the wings at second or short, so if they believe Hudson can be productive into his age 33-34 seasons, there’s little reason not to save the money on the front end and sign him to a 3/21 deal instead of the 1/9 he’s reported to be seeking. Granted, it puts the Twins on the hook for more money in an absolute sense, and Hudson hasn’t been the healthiest of players, but it’s an option worth exploring if the Twins are willing to commit $6-7 million to a player, but not the full $9 million Hudson is seeking.
The fact is that the Twins won’t pay $9 million for Hudson. That doesn’t mean that he won’t get $9 million from someone, or that the Twins won’t be the team that ends up signing him for less, but right now there’s just no common ground. If I had to guess, I believe that Hudson’s price will drop eventually, perhaps even soon. Everyone wants to be paid what they believe themselves to be worth, but when push comes to shove, a job is a job.
The two teams most commonly connected to Hudson thus far are the Twins and the Nats, both of whom seem to be waiting for Hudson’s price to fall. I can’t see either deciding at this point that they are just going to sign him—damn the cost—when they’ve waited this long to make a move.
As in the past, this is a question of dollars and cents. The Twins have already upgraded the infield, and may choose to target their dwindling fund elsewhere, but they’ve already shown a willingness to spend $5 million (the amount they offered Jarrod Washburn). If they can spend $2 million more, and if Hudson is willing to drop his price by that same amount, I really think that a deal will get done. What remains to be seen is if either of those things will happen.