Like a lot of Sabean deals, this one happened really fast. Once the Giants were placed on his rumor radar as a possibility, and he stated that he was open to pitching on the west coast (he pretty much orchestrated his trade by the A's to the Braves, as he wanted to pitch for his boyhood team), he was pretty much signed sealed delivered within a week. And our local scribes seemed to know which rumor was hotter than others, while there is mentions of the other pitching targets, when Hudson was rumored, that got its own post about that possibility. In general, Sabean likes to act fast with guys they target and like to get things done before or by the GM meetings in December.
That amount of money ($11.5M per) normally would be considered a steal of a deal given his history of performance, but given that he missed the last two months of the season due to a broken ankle and that he has not returned to running yet (though the cast is off, he's gotten a clean bill of health, and is expected to start running again by Thanksgiving, roughly), some might view the deal as very risky, taking on a 38 YO pitcher who has not yet fully recovered from a ankle injury. Seems like the Giants are valuing him to produce like he did in 2012, roughly a 1.5-2.0 WAR production with a 3.62 ERA.
Making it even worse, the Braves, his former team, reportedly not only offered him a one year contract at much below the $9M deal he had for 2013, but when the Giants deal was offered for a counter, they did not bother to. Clearly they were not comfortable with the risk and/or his age, and they have had a close up view of his body over the past 9 seasons, so that is disconcerting. If it was solely because the Braves rotation is full of young pitchers and they want to move on, then why even bother insulting someone who has been a leader for them and who had wanted to come home and pitch for his boyhood team? Just say you are moving on and not try to low-ball him with a deal. So this suggests that there might be something off that makes them unwilling to not only offer just one year, but very little for that one year.
Risk is All Relative
So yes, there is risk (including the no-trade clause) but I'm comfortable with this risk. The Giants obviously have a lot of experience dealing with devastating ankle injuries, with their work on Posey's ankle. I assume their trainers and doctors have pored over his medical records with a fine tooth comb and will kick the tires in their physical as well. Also, any of the pitchers available on the free market has some sort of risk beyond the normal TINSTAAPP worries one would have with any pitcher, that he can go at any moment. It is a matter of picking your poison.
Or in this case, picking your potential. He has a 3.44 ERA for his career, 3.35 ERA since he came back from TJS, so he has been very good for a very long time. The Giants are pricing him in the high 3 ERA performance range, so if he returns to full health and can throw without any problems like he did before, he would be a great addition to any starting rotation as a top of rotation guy, let alone his position as a 3/4 for the Giants, where he would be a stupendous addition. Without the injury and given he was on a great stretch of pitching when injured, he most probably would have had another good season, somewhere in the range of his 2011-2012 seasons.
And the risk is mitigated by the fact that it is only for two seasons and "only" $11.5M per season. Obviously the Giants were able to navigate their way to two championships in 2010 and 2012 despite dead weight salaries of Renteria, Rowand, Zito, Huff, and Wilson during those years, for significant coin. And at only two years, only 2014 is really at risk, because we have the bulk of our top pitching prospects coming to the majors in the 2015-2016 time frame, so should he not deliver in 2015, we should have plenty of alternatives to turn to, and if he is still pitching well enough, that should push out one of our prospects years of control out into the 2020 decade.
Very Productive Starter Who Has Been Mostly Healthy
He was still dealing well enough in 2013 when healthy. His K/9 is on the low side (and horrible last season), but decent enough at 6.5 K/9, plus he hardly walks anyone so that helps a lot as well. In 21 starts, he had 57% DOM starts, only 19% DIS starts, both very good numbers that only look bad in relationship to the Giants rotation of their championship years, that stretch from 2009-2012.
And he has been a horse, much like Zito has been. In 11 of the 14 full seasons he could have pitched in, he had at least 179.0 IP, in 10 of them 188.2 IP or more. And the 3 years he didn't, were marked by his TJS in 2008-2009 and his ankle injury in 2013, both freak type of injuries not expected to recur. Otherwise, his body and arm has been pretty healthy and capable of putting in the innings, which is a key component of producing good value, being out there and playing.
Plus, the Giants aren't just acquiring him for his performance. Being the wily vet that he is, he has a lot to pass on to younger starters, like Tim Lincecum, in particular. John Shea noted an interview with Hudson from 2012, and here is the money quote on Timmy:
“Just as a fan and a veteran of the game, you want to try to help out young pitchers. From the other dugout, it’s what I see. His stuff is good. He’s still 91, 92, 93 (mph), plenty to win in this league, especially with that changeup. He doesn’t have to make every pitch a swing-and-miss pitch. I was the same way when I was younger. You feel like a stud out there when people swing and miss. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve preached to our young guys that strikeouts are sexy, but outs are outs, man, no matter how you get them. It’s a lot cooler for me pitching in the seventh or eighth inning than it is going 5 1/3. Your manager likes it a lot more, too.”This is much in line with acquiring Morris to tutor Cain and The Big Unit to tutor Sanchez, as well as Lincecum and Cain. If he can help Lincecum make that transition better and faster, that helps to make Lincecum's deal look like a good deal with great performance. And Lincecum appears to be at that point of desperation where he's willing to try really new things - like pre-game going over hitters with the catcher - in order to become a better pitcher. And not that he has been adverse to change - he did add pitches to his repertoire - but that there were some things he still needed a push on. In addition, hopefully our top prospects take the opportunity to speak with him - and given his quote - I don't think he's going to be shy about going up to them the moment he sees a teaching opportunity
Consequences of Deal
I'm curious where Bochy will slot Hudson. He will probably start off the rotation again with Cain and Bumgarner - Cain appears to be over his Perfecto stretch of games where he was merely good instead of great, and Bumgarner was great throughout most of the season, hitting the hits Timmy hit in terms of PQS DOM%. I would have to think they put Tim 3rd due to his ego and youth, then Hudson, but, of course, that's up for restructure after the All-Star game.
And it sounds like the Giants are not done dealing. They have reportedly talked with Josh Johnson as well as keep tabs on the Nolasco situation, though that's probably not happening because he wants 4 years and it sounds like they are only willing to go three. And Arroyo appears to still be in the picture, though rumors has it that he's looking for something in 2 year, $30M range, much higher than Hudson.
Given that Arroyo is wanting that, I have to wonder, even with all the talk about how he accepted a lesser deal because of his injury, did the Giants position as near ready to make the push again for a championship helped sway Hudson to sign with them versus the A's, who failed again to get pass the first round of the playoffs? Hudson is arguably equivalent to Arroyo, perhaps better, even with the injury recovery, and thus could have tried to hold out for more, even $13M per season seems reasonable given Arroyo wants $15M per. But then he would risk losing all the available rotation spots on a team like the Giants, where their GM likes to move fast and get their ducks in a row quickly. Seems to me that his desire for a ring possibly could have given the Giants a little discount.
This addition to the rotation also suggests that Vogelsong's fairy tale story with the Giants is near the end, unfortunately. He has reported received contact from other teams but there has not been much on the Giants front since they exercised their team options and said that they were open to his return. While the other teams are probably in no hurry to sign Vogelsong, making time not an issue, per se, now that the Giants are down to one rotation spot and appears to still be active with other free agents, it is possible that Vogelsong's desire to pitch for the U.S. in the WBC might have cost him his dream job with his team, as the record is not good: most of the players involved with the WBC for the Giants had some kind of injury. Good luck to him if this is what happens, he has been a good and stalwart Giant player. Thanks for some great memories, either way.
Next up, it appears the Giants are focused most on obtaining a 5th starter of some repute, to supercharge their rotation for a run in 2014, which could be Sandoval's last year with the Giants and they are hoping for fireworks from him but obviously am unsure. There was some talk about trading for another starting pitcher, and thus due to that uncertainty, the Giants could try a sideways move and trade Sandoval for a young starting pitcher plus a 3B starter who has struggled in his career. The White Sox is rumored to be looking for left-handed power and is willing to trade one of their young pitchers plus has a 3B in Gordon Beckham who has been barely OK and a huge disappointment offensively, but has been much better defensively playing 3B than at 2B, where Chicago has decided was his position.
And Sandoval is the only trading chip that makes sense. The Giants have made the point to say that they do not want to lose their draft pick - meaning all starters with a QO is probably off their immediate list - and that they do not want to trade away their young pitchers. That really only leaves young players on the 25 man roster as potential trading chips, as I doubt any team is going to give us a decent starter for any of our position prospects without some of our good pitching. Bumgarner and Romo are untouchables, Crawford alone won't do it, and the Giant are not trading away Belt unless they get a boatload of ready prospects, which is unlikely for any team to offer that (or even to have that, plus Belt is probably pretty much untouchable by this point anyway). That leaves Sandoval, who has been recently noted as a possible trade target by the MLB Giants reporter and who was openly challenged by his GM in the season ending press conference.
They still need to figure out what they are doing with Lopez, though it seems like the Giants are willing and likely to resign him, but he appears to want to enjoy being a free agent and seeing what offers might come his way, particularly with all the extra money now sitting in teams' coffers from the new ESPN contract adding $20-25M to each team's revenues. The Giants appear to have an agreement to get to match his best offer. Let's see how crazy the bidding gets, though the Nats apparently are talking with him and he grew up in the nearby Virginia area, as did his wife as well.
The Giants are also looking to add power to the lineup, either at 1B (appears to be in play as they tried to sign Abreu but didn't match the years) or LF (meaning Belt would be at the other position, depending on who they sign). I don't see how they will get a very good option via this route, anybody looking at this situation knows that Posey is playing significant amount of games at 1B (around 25-30 games) and if Belt continues to hit well, the missing games will mostly come out of the signed player's time. So the Giants most probably will end up with a platoon level player, probably a left-handed hitter who kills RHP, so that most of time he is replaced is when it is a LHP starting. Even if a decent starter is still desperate for a spot by spring training, odds are that he would not want to sign with a team intending to sit him down for significant amount of games like that, at least 15-20 games, depending on how many games the Giants are willing to sit Belt down.
As I've been saying for a while, I would just start Belt in LF - all the major defensive metrics do not rate Belt as highly as fans say he is at 1B - and start Pill at 1B most of the time. If Pill does not figure it out with his extensive amount of playing in the first half of the season, the Giants can then pursue a free agent starting 1B from a team out of the race and looking to save money on their budget, and at that point would take a lower tier prospect from us. Meanwhile, this frees Bochy up to start Posey at 1B more often since Sanchez is the backup catcher and replacing Pill's bat with Sanchez is not that big a deal, and if it is, that means Pill is hitting really well, and manager's love problems like that.
The lineup production potential even with Pill at 1B is still pretty good based on the other starter's established production level and projections. And it is not like there are any great choices at 1B or LF right now, the best ones have a QO and unlikely to be signed by the Giants, leaving a lot of question marks out there on the market, lots of platoon type players. I don't know that Pill will be any good, but I prefer that versus having to sign a question mark starter for $5-7M right now, just to cover that part of the lineup. With a good rotation, we should be in the hunt no matter what by mid-season, at which point teams should be more willing to trade their big money free agents for very low prospect value if the Giants take on the salary.