I never want to hear the name of Orlando Hudson again.
I’m sure he’s a great guy, and I know he’s a great player. But over the last 16 months, I’ve spent seven of them glued to mlbtraderumors.com, waiting to see if he was going to sign with the Washington Nationals as everyone expected.
A year ago, he seemed to be an odds-on favorite to sign with the team, greatly enhancing the infield defense while stabilizing an all-too-young team. And just when it seemed that the Nationals were the only suitor left at the dance, the Dodgers swooped in and signed him away.
But, oh, this winter was going to be different. Hudson had great interest in Washington last season, but they just couldn’t come to terms financially. But now that friends Adam Dunn and Nyjer Morgan played in D.C., there was little doubt the Nationals were his first choice.
And his first choice they were, right up until the time the signed with the Minnesota Twins.
Look, I don’t begrudge Hudson’s choice. He was offered $2 million more to play for a reigning division champion who upgraded an already solid team in preparation to play in a brand-new ballpark.
And I don’t begrudge general manager Mike Rizzo either. Regardless of the size of the team’s current payroll, overpaying because you can is bad for business.
The Nationals’ hands were tied over the last few seasons thanks in part to the $21 million in annual salary paid to Austin Kearns, Dmitri Young and Cristian Guzman.
In 2008 and 2009, the Nationals spent $42 million and have received in return a .251 batting average, 25 home runs and 152 RBI along with a .325 on-base percentage and a .389 slugging mark.
Each of those contracts are in and of themselves not ridiculously out of line. But when a team starts stockpiling mediocre contracts, it becomes difficult to find the money to upgrade the team.
Many commenters at ballparkguys.com and the Washington Post’s Nats Journal have written that the Nationals should have come up with the extra money for Hudson because the team’s payroll is about $6 million less at this point than it was last year. They could have afforded it, they said, if they really wanted to.
I don’t agree.
Signing Orlando Hudson would have brought the Nationals good publicity but not necessarily more wins. He is a 31-year-old who still hits well, and though his defensive skills are beginning to decline, Hudson is still a Gold Glove defender.
But spray-hitting defensive second-baseman aren’t game changers. Sure, he might have helped the team win three or four more games. That would mean the team might win 77 wins instead of 74 games.
And when the season ends, He would ride the winds of free agency to his fourth team in four years.
And, just like this year, the Nationals would have to fill a void at second base.
Sure, the Nationals aren’t as good without Hudson, but by how much? We can’t judge any perceived drop by comparing the team with Hudson at second to last year when Alberto Gonzalez played the position.
The difference must be calculated by comparing Hudson with his replacement Adam Kennedy, who was quickly signed for $1.2 million when Rizzo’s “Plan A” fell through.
First, neither player would have returned next season, so their value would have been limited to a one-and-done in 2010 (there is a 2011 club option for 2011 but I doubt it will be picked up). Ian Desmond will replace Cristian Guzman at short by 2011 and will remain there until prized prospect Danny Espinoza is major league ready. Desmond would then move to second base.
There is no question that Hudson has had a remarkable career, having garnered four Gold Gloves and two All Star appearances in eight seasons.
Over his 11 season career, Adam Kennedy’s career highlight came in his first season when he finished sixth in the 2000 Rookie of the Year balloting.
Offensively, their career numbers are very similar based on a 162-game season:
Kennedy: .277-8-58, 20 stolen bases, .330 on-base percentage, .392 slugging percent
Hudson: .282-12-69, 8 stolen bases, .348 on-base percentage, .431 slugging percent
And take a look at their 2009 numbers:
Kennedy: .289-11-63, 20 stolen bases, .348 on-base percentage, .410 slugging percent
Hudson: .282-9-62, 8 stolen bases, .357 on-base percentage, .417 slugging percent.
Kennedy is quicker and can be counted on to steal more bases than Hudson while Hudson is more selective at the plate, drawing an average of 20 more walks per season.
It’s Hudson’s defense, though, that is the difference maker. Take a look at their 2009 defensive statistics along with those of Ronnie Belliard for comparison purposes:
RTOT (Runs above or below an average fielder in a season)
Range Factor (The higher the number the better)
Hudson’s stats rebounded in 2009 after a steady decline since 2004. Kennedy’s .967 fielding percent is almost 20 points below his career average, but he split time between second and third last season in Oakland, and playing multiple positions in a season typically hurts a player’s defense.
With Adam Dunn at first, the Nationals need a second baseman with outstanding range, making Hudson even more appealing.
Many fans have remarked that Kennedy’s range is “Belliard-esque,” making him a poor “Plan B” for the Nationals.
But that’s just not true.
Kennedy’s range is far better than Ronnie Belliard, though not as good as Hudson. Again, for comparison, here are the range factors of last season’s National League East second baseman:
Chase Utley: 4.95
Luis Castillo: 4.45
Dan Uggla: 4.31
Kelly Johnson: 4.25
Ronnie Belliard: 2.27
Kennedy’s range factor from last season would have been third best in the division, and a tremendous increase over Belliard and both Alberto Gonzalez (3.95) and Anderson Hernandez (3.92).
Twice the Washington Nationals have tried to sign Orlando Hudson and twice they have failed. Last season, then general manager had no backup plan. When he lost out to the Dodgers, Bowden was content to go into spring training with Gonzalez, Belliard and Hernandez as his only options.
But Mike Rizzo was prepared and signed Kennedy within hours after Hudson committed to the Twins.
Not signing Orlando Hudson will have no real long-term repercussions for the team. It would have been nice to have him but he wasn’t a necessity. There would have been a huge drop-off if Alberto Gonzalez would have become the heir apparent at second, but that didn’t happen.
Adam Kennedy will provide excellent stop-gap insurance until Ian Desmond (or someone else) is ready to take over. He won’t be flashy, but he’ll be both steady and stable, words that didn’t come close to describing second base for the Nationals last season.
If the Nationals had gone after Kennedy from the beginning, most of us would be pleased and content with the obvious upgrade at second. But because it was thought (for two years in a row) that Hudson’s coming to Washington was a done deal, we feel a little bit down.
Don’t feel down. Kennedy will do a fine job for the Nationals.