Saturday, February 15, 2014
New Giant Hudson in a comfortable place
By Jerry Crasnick
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- When a player changes teams as a free agent, the whole family goes along for the ride. Tim Hudson spent nine seasons with the Atlanta Braves before toying with the idea of moving his family to the West Coast, so he made sure to run the scenario past the entire crew for feedback. His wife, Kim, daughters Kennedie and Tess and son Kade all got a chance to weigh in and express their feelings on the subject.
In mid-November, the discussions reached a state of finality when Hudson signed a two-year, $23 million deal with the San Francisco Giants. Shortly thereafter, apprehension gave way to a family-wide attitude adjustment.
“My son was a huge Brian McCann fan, so of course now he’s talking about Buster Posey," Hudson said Saturday from Scottsdale Stadium. "My oldest daughter, she’s 12 and in the seventh grade and she’s very analytical. She’s studying the roster, and she’s very excited about who we have here."
Based on the relative lack of offseason activity in San Francisco, general manager Brian Sabean and the front office apparently concur.
After winning two titles in three years, the Giants landed with a thud in 2013. They finished 76-86 -- the franchise’s worst record in five seasons. And when they emptied out their lockers at the start of October, rather than the end, there were a lot of reasons they could pinpoint for the drop-off.
The Giants cleaned up against National League West competition with 44-32 record within the division, but went 11-23 versus the NL Central and 6-14 in interleague play. They never adequately replaced Melky Cabrera's bat in left field, where Gregor Blanco, Andres Torres and friends combined for five homers and a major-league worst .651 OPS at the position. Pablo Sandoval had a nondescript season, and Marco Scutaro was plagued by back and hip problems and took a big step backward defensively.
Injuries to Santiago Casilla and Jeremy Affeldt put a crimp in the bullpen’s production, and the dominant starting pitching that had been the cornerstone of the San Francisco’s championship teams was nowhere in evidence. Matt Cain had an off year, Ryan Vogelsong struggled badly before getting hurt, and Barry Zito was so bad the Giants pulled him from the rotation for Guillermo Moscoso in early August. In the end, the Giants finished tied with the Cubs for 12th among National League staffs with a 4.00 team ERA.
That type of comedown typically leads to an overhaul, but the Giants responded by maintaining the status quo, for the most part. Hunter Pence agreed to a five-year, $90 million contract in late September, Lincecum re-signed for two years and $35 million a month later, and lefty reliever Javier Lopez finalized a three-year, $13 million deal right before Thanksgiving.
The Giants’ two biggest offseason additions of note: Hudson arrives to replace his former Oakland teammate, Zito, in the rotation, and Michael Morse will provide some pop in left field if he can manage to avoid injuries and stay in the lineup.
At San Francisco’s spring camp, the players are on board with the notion that last year was a perfect storm of misfortune and they have the pieces to contend again. Lopez, who wasn't sure he would be back, recalled conversations that he and the team’s other pending free agents had with Sabean at the trade deadline in July.
“Brian talked to all of us individually," Lopez said. “He expressed the fact that things weren't going the way we wanted them to go. But he didn't feel we were too far away. There was no reason to blow it up. We were coming off two titles in the last three years, so something was obviously working. It just wasn't working out [last year]. I think that’s a big reason a lot of us are back. We wanted to be back."
Hudson, 38, was having a typically solid year when disaster struck. He was covering first base against the Mets in late July when New York’s Eric Young Jr. stepped on his foot and fractured his right ankle. The recovery period for the injury is 6-7 months, and Hudson knows it will take a couple of weeks of throwing, running and pitchers' fielding practice before he gets an accurate gauge of where he is physically. But he still expects to be ready in time for Opening Day.
Given Hudson’s eight career 200-inning seasons, recent lack of arm trouble and willingness to accept a short-term contract, the offseason market for his services was brisk. Oakland, Tampa Bay and Cleveland all jumped into the fray, but Hudson’s preference was to remain in the National League, where he knows the hitters and the ballparks and feels a sense of comfort. He was also a pretty fair hitter back in the day as a pitcher-outfielder at Auburn University, and enjoys being able to contribute in any way possible even if his skills at the plate have diminished through the years.
“I’m not going to be putting any balls in McCovey Cove," he said, laughing.
The Giants have plopped Hudson into the far corner of the clubhouse next to Lincecum, who arrived in camp with short hair and a sparse, Derek Holland-caliber mustache. As undersized right-handers with the same first name, Hudson and Lincecum already have a couple of potential bonding points.
“They’ve got the two skinniest guys on the team holding down this side of the locker room," Hudson said. “We have our protein mix and all our supplements right here in the corner."
Chimed in Lincecum: “It’s the sub-6-foot corner."
San Francisco’s rotation depth consists of Yusmeiro Petit, David Huff and Kameron Loe, who wants to try starting after years in the bullpen, so the Giants are pinning their hopes on a return to form by the mainstays. Although Hudson still has to acclimate to life with a new team, he’s quite familiar with the Bay Area from his tenure with the Athletics from 1999-2004.
“Both my daughters were born in Oakland and they've never been back," Hudson said. “Now they’re going to get to meet the baby doctor who delivered them, for God’s sake. That’s pretty cool."
The offseason took some interesting twists and turns for all three members of Oakland’s erstwhile "Big Three" -- one of the most celebrated young pitching contingents in baseball history. While Zito spent the winter surfing and apparently contemplating whether he wants to continue playing baseball, Mark Mulder left his position as an ESPN analyst and decided to give the game one more shot at age 36. Mulder signed with the Los Angeles Angels in January and was in the process of making a comeback when his plans were derailed Saturday by a ruptured Achilles tendon.
Then there’s Tim Hudson, who left Atlanta in his baseball twilight years to travel all the way across country and play for the Giants, with the full blessing of his family. Who could have envisioned that?
“That’s funny how life happens," Hudson said. “Sometimes you can’t plan for it. You just have to follow what you feel is right, make the best decision you can and hope things work out for the best."
It's early yet, but the clubhouse feels comfortable and the ankle keeps getting better. Now it’s in everyone’s best interests for Hudson to show he still has something left in the tank.