After Monday’s deadline to tender contracts to arbitration eligible players, the free agent pool grew due to teams electing not to tender contracts to some of these players. One of the more interesting names among those non-tendered is right-handed starter Daniel Hudson, who was not given a contract by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Could the Rays be in on Hudson?
Hudson was drafted in the 5th round of the 2008 draft by the Chicago White Sox. It took Hudson just one full year in the minors to draw attention to himself as he was rated the number 66 prospect by Baseball America prior to the 2010 season. Hudson first saw big league action at the end of 2009 with the White Sox, and again saw action with the Sox in 2010 before being dealt along with David Holmberg to the Diamondbacks in exchange for Edwin Jackson. Hudson saw his first sustained big league success with the Diamondbacks, starting 11 games for them in 2010 and posting a 1.69 ERA. Hudson’s first full season in the big leagues in 2011 was also very successful, as he posted a 3.49 ERA while pitching a stout 222 innings. Hudson had given the Diamondbacks every reason to be excited about his future. However, after 9 awful starts in 2012, Hudson went down with a torn UCL, requiring Tommy John surgery. Hudson appeared slightly ahead of schedule, but in his first rehab start in June, he tore his UCL for the second time. Now Hudson’s future is up in the air, as two Tommy John surgeries within a year is never a good thing for a pitcher. However, Hudson is still plenty young, and his ability when he was healthy is undeniable, so could he end up being a possibility for a long-term investment by the Rays?
Hudson will not be healthy to start 2014, so any team signing him is doing it for what Hudson is able to do in coming years when he is healthy. The normal recovery for Tommy John surgery is around a year, but considering this is his second surgery in the last year, teams will likely be more cautious with Hudson. After only pitching 2 minor league innings since July of 2012, Hudson will also have some rust to shake off. If everything is on track with his rehab, Hudson would likely be on track to begin pitching in minor league games by July-August of next year. There is hope he could pitch in the majors next year, although he will only be able to pitch very late into the season, if at all. The good news for whichever team signs Hudson is that he will be under team control for three years. Thus, the team that elects to sign him will not have to worry so much about him pitching this year, but rather that he is healthy for the future.
The Rays are always looking for discount pitching, and Hudson could very well fit this mold. Hudson will sign a cheap major league deal as he recovers and hope he can get back on track in 2015. The Rays could elect to guarantee Hudson a major league deal this offseason for say $1 million, the type of deal that plenty of teams would offer Hudson. What could make the Rays stand out would be if they gave Hudson a $1 million player option for 2015. The Rays have been famous throughout baseball for their early-career extensions, and the logic behind this deal would be the same: risk a little to offer the player financial security, and quite often the player will accept. Hudson could even decline the option to be arbitration-eligible if he came back strongly at the end of 2013. If Hudson never pitches a game for the Rays, $2 million over two years is basically nothing. And if Hudson gets healthy and returns to anything remotely close to his previous form, it could be an absolute steal.
The Rays are known for signing relievers coming off of injury or ineffectiveness, and have gotten a large amount of success out of these types of players. Who is to say they can’t use this same philosophy and apply this to starting pitchers? With starting pitching always an expensive commodity on starting pitching, the budget-minded Rays should explore every avenue to get bargain pitching. Making low-risk, high-reward deals to pitchers like Hudson could be the logical next step in the Rays’ process; Hudson will receive quite a bit of interest on the market give his past success, but the Rays have everything needed to strike a deal with him. Hudson’s clear preference is to return to Arizona, so the likelihood is that he does not sign with the Rays. However, it is only a matter of time before the Rays sign another starting pitcher in a similar situation, and the reward could be significant.