On the first day of February and Camp Roger, Bobby Cox called Tim Hudson “kind of the forgotten man.” While true for now, it won’t be true for long. Because Tim Hudson has to approximate Javier Vazquez for the Braves’ winter maneuvers to pan out.
Even Hudson concedes the point. “If I don’t come back, I don’t see how they could have [traded Vazquez],” he said. “I don’t think any team could have traded a pitcher like that.”
Hudson offered a cheaper, longer-term option. He took a hometown discount to re-up for three years at $28 million, with a club option for the 2013 season. Vazquez was due to make $11.5 million this season and then would surely have left as a free agent. Monetarily, the trade-off — Hudson in, Vazquez out — makes great good sense.
At issue is whether it makes competitive sense. Vazquez would likely have started on Opening Day. He won 15 games last season and finished fourth in the National League Cy Young voting. Hudson won two games in 2009, but those two games — coming as they did after a year’s layoff due to Tommy John surgery — convinced the Braves that he was the Hudson of yesteryear.
“Huddy will be very good,” Bobby Cox said Monday. “He’s throwing the ball really good right now. He’s an ace — we forget that.”
Certainly that’s what the Braves thought they were getting when they acquired Hudson from Oakland in December 2004. But in his first four seasons as a Brave — his 2008 campaign was truncated by injury — Hudson more often looked like a No. 3 starter than a No. 1. He was 54-38 with an ERA of 3.78. (Over six seasons with the A’s he was 92-39 with an ERA of 3.30.)
Not once as a Brave has Hudson had a season to match what Vazquez did last year — 15-10 with 238 strikeouts and an ERA of 2.87. The Braves are betting that a rotation can be just as strong without its No. 1 man, but for that to happen Hudson must produce at a higher rate than he has since switching leagues.
Cox: “Nobody wanted to lose Vazquez, of course. [But] if we weren’t sold on Huddy we wouldn’t have [re-]signed him. He’s still young [Hudson turns 35 in July]. He’s a top-of-the-rotation guy.”
And maybe he is, because maybe we haven’t yet seen the real Tim Hudson. There were times over his first four seasons when he looked so hittable you asked yourself, “Is something wrong with his arm?” Hudson kept insisting there wasn’t, but now, in the cold light of hindsight, he thinks there might have been.
“I understand how healthy I am,” Hudson said. “Physically I feel better than I did five or six years ago … My arm hasn’t felt this good in eight years. It feels good to be in that good a shape. I’d been having aches and pains, and I just thought that was part of getting older, but now I know my arm wasn’t what it needed to be.”
The surgery rebuilt his elbow, and during the rehab Hudson also strengthened his shoulder. The result: One rejuvenated right arm. And perhaps, down the road, an affirmation of Frank Wren’s busy winter. The general manager traded his best pitcher from 2009 and didn’t get a full-time starter — Melky Cabrera is seen as a fourth outfielder — in return. The move looked strange at the time. It will look better only if Tim Hudson holds up his end.