Tim Hudson returns to Bay Area with two-year deal.
Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
Tim Hudson is reportedly coming back to the Bay Area where he made a name for himself as a member of the “Big Three” alongside Barry Zito and Mark Mulder with the Oakland A’s in the early 2000’s. As was first reported by Steve Berman of the website Bay Area Sports Guy, the San Francisco Giants and Hudson are in agreement on a two-year, $23 million deal. Hudson will replace a former member of the “Big Three” in Zito, whom the Giants declined an option on earlier this winter.
The deal represents good value for the Giants, who desperately needed starting pitching help behind Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Tim Lincecum. The Giants finished with the third-worst rotation ERA in the National League despite pitching half their games in the friendly confines of AT&T Park.
The reported signing of Hudson stabilizes the rotation with a veteran presence at the back-end. Hudson, who will turn 39 next July, went 8-7 with a 3.97 ERA and a 3.46 FIP over 21 starts with the Atlanta Braves before shattering his ankle in July. He also missed time with a lower back injury in 2012. Given his age and recent injury history, durability is the main concern with Hudson.
As a pertinent example of the risks inherent with aging, the Giants were counting on 36-year-old righty Ryan Vogelsong to deliver another solid season last year after he went 14-9 with a 3.37 ERA in 2012. Vogelsong then went 4-6 with a 5.73 ERA over 19 starts in an injury-plagued 2013 season. The Giants are hoping age will be more kind to Hudson over the 2014-15 seasons.
Hudson seems to be a better bet to age gracefully even at this late stage of his career. He’s a command-and-control specialist who keeps the ball on the ground and in the park. Last year, Hudson posted a 55.8 percent groundball rate, good for sixth best in the game among pitchers who threw at least 130 innings. Hudson’s home-run rate of 0.69 per nine innings pitched ranked 23rd, right behind Bumgarner.
Hudson works primarily off of his sinker and slider/cutter. He threw those two pitches a combined 60 percent of the time last season. He also mixes is in a four-seam fastball, a curve and a split. Hudson doesn’t miss many bats with that arsenal, but he commands the ball well and avoids issuing too many free passes. He walked 6.7 percent of opposing hitters last year, which put him in the top half of the league.
Hudson’s ability to avoid walks and home runs allows him to pitch effectively despite possessing a fastball that averages only 89.7 mph. Hudson, who is listed at 6’1″ and 175 pounds, has tremendous leg drive towards the plate, which gives his ball good movement.
Signing Hudson checks a number of boxes for the Giants. It fills the fourth spot in their rotation for the next two seasons at a reasonable cost. It prevents them from committing to a riskier, long-term deal with another free-agent starter like Ricky Nolasco or Matt Garza. It also allows them to keep their first-round draft pick next season. Signing Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana or Hiroki Kuroda would have cost the Giants more money and their first-round pick, since all three were extended the qualifying offer.
Signing Hudson gives the Giants more to time develop a farm system that is loaded with pitching prospects at the lower levels. Kyle Crick is the crown jewel of the system, and he should head a Double-A rotation that might also include top prospects Edwin Escobar, Adalberto Mejia, Ty Blach and Clayton Blackburn. The Giants rotation at High-A San Jose should include more top prospects including 2012 first-rounder Chris Stratton, 2012 second-round pick Martin Agosta, Kendry Flores and Joan Gregorio.
The Giants need Hudson to stay healthy and remain effective to get full value on this deal. That’s certainly a gamble, but it sure beats investing $60 million or so on Nolasco, Garza, Jimenez or Santana. It would have probably cost the club $60 million just to negotiate with the top free-agent starter on the market, Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka. Given the alternatives, this was the best bet the Giants could make to fortify their rotation.
They’ll also need ace righty Matt Cain to bounce back from a disappointing 2013 season. Cain posted a 4.00 ERA after delivering an ERA of 3.14 or below in four straight seasons prior to 2013.
Earlier this winter, the Giants invested $35 million in Lincecum over the next two seasons. The club made that deal in the hopes that Lincecum’s atrocious 4.76 ERA over the past two seasons will be trimmed down closer to his 3.95 FIP during that span.
In Hudson, the Giants are getting an above-average starter who can slot in behind Cain, Bumgarner and Lincecum. His ability to work on a short-term contract, throw strikes, move and command the ball, and keep batted balls on the ground and in the park are all positive assets. His age and injury history are potential concerns, but there were no alternatives on the market that were clearly better fits than Hudson.
If the Giants are going to compete again in 2014, they’ll need to pitch much better than they did last year. Signing Tim Hudson certainly gives the Giants better odds in that regard.