If we could rewind to the start of the eighth inning of the Braves' 8-2 victory over the Mets on July 24 and see that Tim Hudson would agree to a two-year, $23MM contract with San Francisco (as he did earlier this afternoon), we'd assume that the Giants had a relative steal on their hands. Fast forward a few minutes, and the reason for the perceived bargain would become clear; Hudson suffered an ankle fracture that inning that ended his season and cast some doubt on his readiness for 2014.
Hudson has since had a surgical screw removed from the ankle, hopes to be running by the end of the month. While he comes with a great deal of uncertainty, Giants general manager Brian Sabean and his staff have decided to roll the dice on Hudson's health, knowing that should his ankle hold up and be ready for Opening Day, they'll have a bargain on their hands.
Consider that this time last offseason, Ryan Dempster received a two-year, $26.5MM contract coming off a season that saw him finish with a 5.09 ERA (4.08 FIP) in the 69 innings he spent with the Rangers. Had Hudson finished the year as strongly as he'd been pitching (2.73 ERA over his previous 10 starts), he could have been in line for $30MM over the next two seasons or even a three-year deal — a goal that Bronson Arroyo has been rumored to have a shot at reaching. From Opening Day 2010 through the date of his injury, Hudson had topped Arroyo in terms of innings pitched while turning in better ERA, strikeout and ground-ball numbers. Hudson's a year older, but he'd be in the conversation to match or exceed Arroyo's eventual contract, and that figures to greatly exceed $23MM.
Sabean's contract for Tim Lincecum (two years, $35MM) drew some flak that seemed to be well-deserved at the time, but the prices for starting pitching on the open market are clearly going up. Pitchers such as Ricky Nolasco seem destined to easily eclipse $50MM, while Ervin Santana, who was little more than a salary dump a year ago at this time, could be in line for $75MM or more. Sabean decided to retain Lincecum at a rate that may end up being in line with market value and elected to use a non-arm injury to acquire Hudson at a rate that's likely below what even last season's market value would have been.
There's certainly risk in adding a 38-year-old starter coming off season-ending ankle surgery, but weighed against the risk of adding an inconsistent starter such as Nolasco, Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez on four- or five-year deal, this seems to be a chance worth taking for the Giants. By adding Hudson and retaining Lincecum for a combined $58MM over the next two seasons, the Giants have risked a similar total to what Nolasco will command over four years and solidified the No. 3-4 spots in their rotation over a shorter term in the process.