Tim Hudson's 2013 season with the Atlanta Braves ended with a gruesome ankle injury, but that didn't stop the San Francisco Giants from signing the free agent to a two year, $23 million deal this week.
He'll step into Barry Zito's slot, replacing his old teammate on the payroll, but can the Giants really expect Hudson to come back from such a dramatic injury and solidify the rotation behind Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner?
Hudson's ankle injury was one of the toughest to watch in recent memory. Covering first base, he was accidentally stepped on, fracturing the fibula and spraining one of the significant ligaments of the ankle. Those were repaired surgically in late July with the pin fixating the fibula. The pin was removed earlier in November. That removal is a very good indication of his progress.
In congruence with that removal, it appears Hudson is on pace to have a normal spring (h/t to Alex Pavlovic of The Mercury News):
Things are going to plan.
"The ankle's coming along just fine, not quite 100 percent right now but it's well on its way," Hudson said in a news conference Tuesday, as reported by the Associated Press. "I anticipate in the next month or so start throwing bullpens."
While the injury was dramatic, the rehab has been typically boring. Bones heal normally and predictably and can easily be monitored. Speaking to sources with knowledge of Hudson's injury and rehab, Hudson is still relatively early in the rehab process. Due to the timing of the injury, Hudson has been able to essentially do nothing but rest and heal up to this point. I'm told he has done very light rehab and cardio work with the expectation that he would be able to have a normal offseason schedule leading up to next season.
Hudson, 38, and his agents likely considered more than just money when it came to signing with the Giants. The Giants medical staff, led by Dave Groeschner, has been one of the best of the last decade. Over the last three years, it ranks a bit down from their historical norms. According to my proprietary database, the Giants rank 13th in baseball from 2011-2013 based on days lost to injury. The Braves were ranked 18th over the same period.
There are no good comparable players for Hudson in terms of this injury. The unique nature of the injury makes it tough to find anything comparable, which is good. Hudson's injury was to his right (push) ankle, which could cause some issue with force generation. However, the ankle is expected to be stable, which should mitigate any real issues. Hudson's velocity has trended downward, so he may not have much margin for error if he does lose more to injury and time.
So what can we expect from Hudson's move back to the Bay Area? One of the most accurate projection engines, Steamer, has Hudson roughly matching his stats from the past two seasons. Remember that in 2012 Hudson was returning from Tommy John surgery; even with his age going up, it's not unthinkable that a healthy Hudson could exceed these expectations.
I also don't believe this projection adjusts for AT&T Park, which plays slightly more pitcher-friendly than Turner Field. Current estimates have a win above replacement (WAR) costing just over $7 million. The Giants would gladly take a two-win season, even if it's overpaying a little for the privilege.
The details of the deal have yet to be released, but there are likely incentives included. Those could be safety nets like innings-pitched bonuses that would be proxies for Hudson's health and effectiveness. There is also sure to be a "pending physical" in there that would allow the Giants to back out if something unexpected is found. That would be unusual since Hudson's situation is well-known and he is likely to have submitted to more tests, if not a hands-on examination.
Hudson should fit well in the rotation and the team. He's familiar with the Bay Area and the media, so there should be little adjustment in that regard. Dave Righetti is a relatively hands-off pitching coach and Hudson isn't someone who needs hand-holding or regular work on his mechanics. From a medical standpoint, there is some risk, but I believe both Hudson and the Giants are well-equipped to deal with it.