Orlando Hudson was the Twins’ other major free agent signing of the offseason (Jim Thome was the first), inking a one-year, $5 million deal right before spring training. The deal looked like a good one right away, as Hudson provided both a decent bat and solid defense at second base. He had a somewhat disappointing 2009 for the Dodgers, posting a .767 OPS after the all-star break and eventually losing his starting job to Ronnie Belliard, but even that was a vast improvement over the .529 OPS the Twins got out of their second baseman last year (seriously, National League pitchers had better production). Now is a good time to see if the Twins are really getting their money’s worth.
Hudson has been everything the Twins could have asked, though he has had some trouble staying healthy. He’s batting .286/.358/.399 with a .341 weighted on-base average and .114 isolated power, which is the best season for a Minnesota second baseman since Luis Castillo batted .304/.356/.352 before being traded to the Mets in 2007. As an added bonus, Hudson has been as good as advertised on defense. His 9.1 UZR is second only to Cincinnati’s Brandon Phillips in all of baseball at the position, while his 17.3 UZR/150 leads all second baseman. Hudson is helping anchor what has been a terrific defensive infield, with Twins’ starting infielders a combined +33 UZR (90.1 UZR/150), and it’s probably no coincidence that the ground-ball pitchers all have the lowest ERAs on the staff. Really, the only knock against O-Dog has been his health. He’s missed about three weeks with two separate injuries: a wrist injury after colliding with Denard Span in the outfield (which is a pretty freak injury), and a strained oblique. Still, according to Fangraphs, Hudson has been worth 3.0 wins above replacement and provided the Twins with $12.1 million in value. That’s a pretty good return on their investment.
Whether the Twins will bring back the O-Dog next season depends a lot on Alexi Casilla and Nick Punto. Casilla was once considered the second baseman of the future, but he’s been pretty disappointing thus far. He was called up to replace Castillo in 2007, but was unimpressive both at the plate and in the field, batting .222/.256/.259 while providing a -3/8 UZR at second. He seemed to make progress in 2008, batting .281/.33/.374 and providing average defense, but followed it up with a lackluster 2009 campaign in which he was once again demoted to AAA halfway through the season. He’s looked both excellent and lost in the field, often making tough plays but booting routine ones (UZR hasn’t been kind to Casilla either, pegging him at -11.5 in 1974 defensive innings). While the 26 year-old has been batting .292/.329./477 and providing solid defense since returning from elbow surgery, he’s a notoriously streaky hitter and 73 plate appearances isn’t a large enough sample size to determine whether he’s really figured things out.
The Twins will also have to make a decision on picking up Punto’s $5 million option for next year. Punto has been about as good as Hudson defensively throughout his career, though he’s been lacking on offense (posting a career .294 wOBA) and, at 33, isn’t likely to get any better. With an estimated $68 million already committed to seven players next year, and nine players due for raises in arbitration, it’s unlikely the Twins will be bringing both Punto and Hudson back. Hudson may be a better hitter than Punto (and slightly better on defense), but Punto is more versatile in the field. And while Hudson is a better hitter than Punto, he’s the same age and his on-base percentage has been steadily declining over the past couple of seasons. If Hudson is willing to take another one-year, incentive-laden deal, the front office might be more inclined to bring him back and cut bait with Punto (since Casilla would make a much-cheaper utility infielder). However, if Hudson is looking for a multi-year deal, the Twins will likely let him walk.
Erin is a contributing writer for Twinkie Talk. You can email her at erinm725 [at] gmail [dot] com, or follow her on Twitter.