Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Orlando Hudson still lingering on the market.

In the Twinscentric Offseason GM Handbook, we speculated that Orlando Hudson would be the most desired free agent second baseman on the market. After all, his wOBA in the past three years is the sixth-highest (.353) among second basemen, plays above average defense all while turning just 32-years-old in December.  With that in mind, we pegged him primed for a multi-year contract (three years) with an average annual value of $6 million. Turns out, we were the only ones that thought so and in yet another offseason, the market is collapsing in on Hudson.

Since the hot stove action began, players that we viewed as inferior second baseman have been signed. Placido Polanco (Phillies, but moving to third base), Jamey Carroll (Dodgers) and Ronnie Belliard (Dodgers) all have found teams. What’s more is that Polanco, two years Hudson’s elder, wound up with the exact contract from Philadelphia that we had earmarked for Hudson.

There are several unbelievable positive attributes about Hudson that are worth mentioning. His 2009 season with the Dodgers in which the switch-hitter produced a batting line of .283/.357/.417 proved that he was still very capable of being an offensive threat even after moving away from Arizona’s Chase Field. That condensed ballpark in the desert allowed Hudson to hit a stalwart .294/.365/.448 between 2006 and 2008. By all accounts, Hudson is poised to continue that production. His BABIP (.332) was thirty-two points above the league’s average, which in some cases would be a sign for some regression, but as a line drive/ground ball hitter with speed, he is very capable of continuing a BABIP that outperforms the norm. Likewise, his career .348 on-base percentage holds up well when you consider his maintained walk rate that is also typically above average. This means that Hudson’s 2010 season is not as contingent on him hitting safely to buoy a respectable OBP (unlike Delmon Young whose lack of walks makes it difficult to hold an OBP above .340).

Furthermore, he’s havoc on the base for the opposing team but very conservative at the same time. In the past three years, he’s swiped just 22 bases, succeeding with an outstanding 84.6% rate. Similarly, in ‘09, Hudson went from 1st-to-home on doubles eight times in 11 opportunities. This was the seventh highest in all of baseball. To be clear, this is not necessarily a repeatable skill, but if you take into account for the fact that he was on base 65.2% of the time in his career with his quickness, there is a strong likelihood that he will be on base to motor home if his team has some doubles machines behind him (i.e., Mauer, Morneau, Thome, Cuddyer, etc). When you couple this with his plate skills, you see that Hudson makes for an ideal number two hitter.

Reviewing his qualities, Hudson is a product that should sell itself, not the kind of good that needs to be coerced into buying, right? However, the only really suitors left for Hudson appear to be the Washington Nationals, (oddly) the Seattle Mariners and the Minnesota Twins – and even those doors are closing fast. According to Bill Ladsen, Washington’s reporter, the team has attempted to woo the free agent but Hudson and the Nationals are not seeing eye-to-eye financially. Hudson had originally sought a $9 million, one-year deal – slightly better than his 2009 contract which came to $7 million total with incentives. Uninterested in paying retail, the Nationals offered a one-year, $3 million contract worth $4 million based on incentives. Despite not getting his desired amount, Hudson appears to have little designs on playing at this discounted rate.

The Twins, meanwhile, have announced that they are strictly Wal-Mart shoppers, only interested in the low price due to their budget limitations. Joe Christensen blogged that he had a gut-feeling that the Twins would pass on Hudson even if his price tag was reduced to $3 million dollars. Even at this extreme reduction, I've got to say that I agree with him. Christensen continued by citing the team’s hopes that Alexi Casilla would rebound to fill the number two spot in the order. Naturally, this inspired outrage among the faithful. Use whatever method or metric you wanted it is impossible to come to a conclusion where Casilla is a better option than Hudson.

Before you head to your pitchforks, consider this: A recoil season is not out of the question for Casilla. While developing in the system, Casilla has shown the capability of getting on base consistently while making a high rate of contact. For the most part, he’s continued that in the majors, exercising a high-walk, low-strikeout rates but had struggled with putting the ball in play well. His .240 BABIP was insanely repressive as his groundball and line drive batting averages were severely below the norms which submarined his entire season. As a career .298/.371/.375 minor league hitter, he has been Orlando Hudson without the pop. Sure, he’ll never achieve the same power numbers as Hudson but he could reach base more frequently and do just as well while on there (Casilla swiped 11 bags without being thrown out). While he has only shown a small portion of that side of him, if Casilla rebounds and plays to his potential, he could be every bit as equal to Hudson but of course, there’s the rub. Whereas Casilla is skilled enough to be Hudson’s equivalent if given an opportunity (and at a price that fits the budget), the guarantee of Hudson’s track record will cost you anywhere from $3 million to upwards of $7 million but with confidence that you purchased consistency in the lineup.