He’s Southern through and through, and Braves pitcher Tim Hudson would like to keep it here for the rest of his career.
The Braves are expected to pick up a $9 million team option on Hudson’s contract for 2013, relatively inexpensive for a pitcher of his pedigree. But at age 37, it’s uncertain what kind of contract the team might offer beyond next season.
“I’d love to stay here,” said Hudson, a native of Phenix City, Ala., and former Auburn star who’s been with the Braves for eight seasons. “Obviously for next year, but I’d love to stay here as long as they’ll have me. I understand a business is a business.”
Hudson is 10-1/2 months removed from major back surgery and barely a week removed from his seventh season of at least 16 wins. He opened the season on the disabled list recovering from lumbar-fusion surgery and made 28 starts (second-fewest since his rookie year), but Hudson (16-7) still led the Braves in wins and pitched 179-1/3 innings — one-third of an inning behind team leader Mike Minor.
“I’m hoping Huddy comes back,” Braves pitcher Kris Medlen said. “I hope they pick [up the option]. He won 16 games for us and missed a month. That just shows how much we need him and how good he is.”
Hudson’s ERA climbed from 2.83 in 2010 to 3.22 in 2011 and 3.62 in 2012. The sinkerballer again ranked among baseball’s leaders in percentage of groundballs, and his .361 opponents’ slugging percentage tied for third in the National League with San Francisco’s Matt Cain and Pittsburgh’s A.J. Burnett, trailing only the Nationals’ Gio Gonzalez and the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw.
Hudson missed a start in June for a bone spur in his left ankle, and at that time he thought it would require surgery in the offseason. But after having a cortisone injection and laying off his in-season running program for several weeks, he had only mild discomfort the rest of the season.
“The way it was bothering me, I thought there was no way to not have something done,” he said. “But it got better and it hasn’t crept back on me since. So I don’t think there’s anything I’m going to have to do to it. Hopefully in December when I’m sitting around my house, it still feels the same.”
More significant was relief he got via Nov. 28 back surgery. For the first time in several seasons, Hudson wasn’t slowed by back issues. He said during the spring that he thought the surgery might prolong his career, and still believes that.
“I felt better this year than I have in a while, except for the ankle,” he said. “My arm felt great all year, my back never gave me any problems, so that was definitely encouraging. I feel good that I can pitch for a while longer.”
Hudson said he hopes to discuss a contract extension with the Braves this winter.
“That may not be something they want to entertain at this moment,” he said. “They’ve got the one option for next year and they might want to wait and see [beyond that]. I feel like the conversation is warranted, I guess.”
After missing part of 2008 and most of ’09 recovering from ligament-transplant elbow surgery, Hudson went 49-26 with a 3.19 ERA and .237 opponents’ batting average in 622-2/3 innings (95 starts) over the past three seasons. He made $9 million each of those seasons under a contract extension he signed following the 2009 season, a deal that also included the ’13 option and $1 million buyout.
For the sake of comparison, here’s what Philadelphia’s high-priced starting trio did during the past three seasons:
– Roy Halladay went 51-24 with a 2.91 ERA and .247 opponents’ average in 640-2/3 innings (90 starts). Halladay, 35, made $55.75 million over three seasons including $20 million each of the past two. He has a $20 million salary in 2013 and $20 million vesting option for 2014.
– Cole Hamels went 43-26 with a 2.97 ERA and .229 opponents’ average in 640 innings (95 starts). Hamels, 28, made $31 million over three seasons and signed a new deal that pays him $19.5 million in 2013 and $22.5 million each of the five seasons beyond that.
– Cliff Lee went 35-26 with 2.89 ERA and .241 opponents’ average in 656 innings (90 starts). Lee, 34, made $41.5 million over the past three seasons and has $25 million salaries each of the next three years, plus a $27.5 million vesting option for 2016.
The Braves have until three days after the World Series to pick up or decline options on the contracts of Hudson, pitcher Paul Maholm ($6.5 million) and catcher Brian McCann ($12 million). If they pick up the options on both pitchers, their five-man Opening Day rotation might cost about $22 million.
That’s roughly one-third of what the Phillies will owe the threesome of Halladay, Lee and Hamels in 2013.
The Braves have a strong group of young starting pitchers and prospects, led by Medlen and Minor, both outstanding in the second half of the season. Hudson has grown comfortable in a mentor role and has plenty of advice and tips for up-and-coming Braves.
“Both on the field and in the clubhouse, and away from the field,” he said. “I feel like there’s things I can offer, knowledge that only experience can get you. I hope I’m around. We’ll see. I feel like I’ve pulled my end of the bargain. Hopefully they feel the same and they’re going to keep me around for a little bit longer.”
Hudson made $15.5 million in each of the 2008 and 2009 seasons in the final years of the first contract extension he signed after being traded to the Braves from Oakland. Those were the only two seasons in which he made more than $9 million. He’s made about $89 million in a major league career than began in 1999.
Hudson was a 20-game winner (20-6) in his first full season in 2000, and in 2001 he went 18-9 and was the American League Cy Young Award runner-up and 15th in the AL MVP balloting. He hasn’t matched that wins total since, but has won 11 or more games in 13 of 14 seasons, all except his 2009 season in which he made only seven starts.
He’s won 13 or more games 10 times and 16 or more seven times including each of the past three seasons.
Hudson has a 186-102 record since the beginning of the 2000 season, trailing only CC Sabathia (191-102) and Halladay (190-93) in wins during that period.