Saturday, November 1, 2008

Free Agent at the End of the Season: Orlando Hudson

When the Diamondbacks traded for Orlando Hudson after the 2005 season, they thought they knew exactly what they were getting: a great defensive second baseman who was a decent hitter. What they soon discovered was that Hudson was a much better player than his numbers had shown. On top of the gold glove defense, Hudson's batting average and OBP have increased to career highs while Hudson still delivers gold glove defense. Hudson's stellar play was a prime reason for the improved play of the Diamondbacks in 2007 and into 2008.

The Case for Hudson
-His glove.
Throughout his entire career, Hudson has been well known for his stellar play at second base. Hudson has won three gold gloves at the position and demonstrates phenomenal range and soft hands.

-The offense
Despite the Dustin Pedroias, Chase Utleys, and Ian Kinslers of the world, it is still difficult to find a second baseman who hits well at the plate. While Hudson is not in the category of these three guys, his offensive production has steadily increased to the point where Hudson can be a solid #2 or #6 hitter for most teams. Whatever team signs Hudson can count on a .290 batting average with 10-15 HR and 60-70 RBI. I tell you this much, I'd take that any day over Luis Castillo.

-Lefties? Righties? Who cares?
It's important to recognize that Hudson is unlike many other left handed hitters, especially second baseman. Over the past three seasons, Hudson's splits against lefties and righties have been phenomenal. Take a look:

2006: .270 (vs. RHP) .338 (vs. LHP)
2007: .298 (
vs. RHP) .281 (vs. LHP)
2008: .321 (vs. RHP) .269 (vs. LHP)

Simply put, those splits are fantastic. Hudson is a guy who you want in the lineup regardless of whose pitching. With splits like this, Hudson would make a fantastic #2 hitter on many teams.

-"Clubhouse guy"
By all accounts, Hudson is the perfect clubhouse leader. With his infectious mix of energy and enthusiasm, Hudson has made his mark in the clubhouse with both the Blue Jays and Diamondbacks. So yes, most teams would love to have a guy like Hudson simply for his leadership abilities, but would they be willing to pay more because of this? I hope the Mets will, but we'll find out.

The Case Against Hudson
-Can he stay healthy?
In each of the past two seasons, Hudson's season has ended prematurely because of hand and wrist injuries. Both injuries were rather freak occurrences (sliding awkwardly into a base and colliding with Braves C Brian McCann), but both injuries greatly weakened the Diamondbacks. Even if Hudson is fully healed by spring training, Hudson's injury history is certainly not a positive addition to his resume and is by far, the biggest question Hudson must answer during the free agent process.

Hudson, who will turn 31 in December, is no spring chicken. Sure he is still in his "prime years", but after all of the injuries, teams have to wonder how long Hudson will be able to maintain his production.

Perhaps the best thing Hudson has going for him is that the other free agent second basemen are pretty bad. Do you really want to take a chance on the inconsistent Nick Punto? Or how about the aging, injured, and perennial headcase, Jeff Kent? Even if Hudson is not one of the top second basemen in baseball, he is by far the best second baseman in this class.

And lucky for him, there are many teams that could be looking for a second baseman. I think the following teams will be interested: Mets, Indians, White Sox, Cardinals, and Dodgers to all express interest in Hudson. And how about the Cubs here? Hudson would provide major stability to an infield that looked atrocious during the NLCS.

(4 years/$38 mil)

I admit that Hudson doesn't stand out to as a guy who deserves close to $10 mil per season. But in this market, with so many teams potentially needing a second basemen, I see the competition becoming fierce for Hudson's services. And how about this, take a look at these contracts given out to other second basemen. What do they all have in common? Hudson is a better bet than any of those guys and offers more intangibles (offense, defense, clubhouse) than any of these guys.

-Kaz Matsui (3 years/$16.5 mil)
-Luis Castillo (4 years/$26 mil)
-Robinson Cano (4 years/$30 mil)

So in turn, Hudson deserves to be paid more than each of these guys. And I'm very confident that he will find a few teams willing to pay for his services. However, if Hudson is looking for a contract similar to that of Chase Utley, he will be massively disappointed.

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