6:55pm: MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reports the finances for the free agent deals (on X). Hudson will make $1.5MM and can earn another $1.5MM in incentives. Stallings is guaranteed $2MM, taking the form of a $1.5MM salary next year and a $500K buyout on a 2025 mutual option.
2:24pm: The Rockies are planning to announce one-year deals with right-hander Dakota Hudson and catcher Jacob Stallings, per a report from Thomas Harding of MLB.com. The Rockies subsequently announced the moves, announcing two corresponding moves as well. Catcher Brian Serven was claimed off waivers by the Cubs while infielder Alan Trejo was outrighted to Triple-A.
A first-round selection by the Cardinals in the 2016 draft, Hudson was a quick riser who made his big league debut with the club back in 2018. Early in his career, the groundballer significantly outdid his peripheral stats to perform at a mid-rotation level for the Cardinals. From his big league debut until the end of the shortened 2020 campaign, Hudson impressed with a sterling 3.17 ERA in 241 innings of work despite a concerning 4.74 FIP. That elevated FIP was thanks primarily to a subpar 18.1% strikeout rate against an elevated 11.6% walk rate. Only Andrew Cashner, Antonio Senzatela, and Clayton Richard posted worse K-BB ratios than Hudson during that time among pitchers with at least 200 innings of work. With that being said, Hudson’s whopping 57.3% grounder rate actually led all pitchers over the same period.
Hudson lost nearly the whole 2021 season to Tommy John surgery and his performance began to take a turn for the worse the following season. In 139 2/3 innings of work across 27 appearances (26 starts) that year, Hudson saw his strikeout rate plummet to just 13.1% while his walk rate stayed relatively stagnant at 10.2%. That extreme lack of swing and miss left Hudson with a career-worst 4.45 ERA despite a still-strong 53% groundball rate and just 7.2% of the fly balls he did give up leaving the park for home runs.
Those red flags in Hudson’s profile led to an even more difficult 2023 season, where the right-hander spent much of the season in the minor leagues and struggled to a 4.98 ERA with a 5.06 FIP in 81 1/3 innings of work. When looking exclusively at the time Hudson spent in the Cardinals rotation following the departures of Jack Flaherty and Jordan Montgomery at the trade deadline, Hudson’s numbers are even more concerning as he posted a 5.23 ERA and 5.45 FIP in 62 innings across those 11 starts. Hudson’s peripheral numbers also declined significantly as his groundball rate dipped to 51.5%, his strikeout rate fell to 12.7%, and his fastball velocity cratered to 91.3 mph. Each of those figures was the worst of his career and a far cry from the 57.3% grounder rate, 18.1% strikeout rate, and 93.8 mph fastball velocity Hudson showed in the first three seasons of his career.
Given Hudson’s longtime struggles and worsening peripherals, it wasn’t much of a surprise when St. Louis opted to non-tender the right-hander back in November rather than retain him for the 2024 campaign. While Hudson’s salary in Colorado isn’t yet known, it’s unlikely to be higher than Hudson’s arbitration projection (courtesy of MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz) of $3.7MM. Given that, the signing is a solid, low-cost gamble by the Rockies. Groundballers like Hudson are less subject to the difficulties of pitching at Coors Field than pitchers that allow more contact in the air, as highlighted by the previous successes of arms like German Marquez and Antonio Senzatela in the ballpark.
With that being said, both of those aforementioned hurlers figure to open the season on the injured list while rehabbing Tommy John surgery. That leaves the Rockies without their rotation’s backbone, and Hudson figures to join the club’s Opening Day rotation alongside Kyle Freeland and Austin Gomber as well as fellow offseason acquisition Cal Quantrill. Even if Hudson can’t recapture his previous form in Colorado, he could eat innings for the club until Marquez and Freeland are ready to return. And if Hudson manages to find success with the Rockies, the club can control the 29-year-old through arbitration in 2025.
Stallings, 34 last month, was a non-tendered back in November by the Marlins. A seventh-round pick in the 2012 draft by the Pirates, Stallings made his big league debut in 2016 and received brief cups of coffee in the majors over three seasons before earning a regular role as the club’s back-up catcher in 2019. He made the most of the opportunity, combining strong defense behind the plate with a respectable .262/.325/.382 (82 wRC+) slash line in 210 plate appearances. That strong full-season debut earned Stallings a look as the club’s primary catcher over the next two seasons, and he did well for himself in the role with a .246/.333/.371 (92 wRC+) line in 154 games behind the plate. Stallings also saw his already solid defense behind the plate improve to the point of winning a Gold Glove at the position in 2021.
During the 2021-22 offseason, the Pirates decided to ship Stallings to Miami in exchange for a package of three players. That decision proved to be a wise one as Stallings saw his performance quickly crater upon joining the Marlins. During his two seasons with the club, he’s slashed just .210/.287/.290 (62 wRC+) in 660 trips to the plate while his formerly Gold Glove caliber defense has crumbled to more or less league average. Statcast estimates Stallings to have been worth +2 framing runs and +5 blocking runs in 2021; by contrast, the veteran was worth -5 framing runs and just +2 blocking runs this past season. That massive downturn in performance on both sides of the ball led the Marlins to non-tender Stallings prior to his final trip through arbitration, where he projected to earn $3.6MM.
Like Hudson, the details of Stallings’s arrangement with the Rockies are not yet clear, though his guarantee is unlikely to surpass that aforementioned $3.6MM figure. In Colorado, Stallings figures to be reunited with Elias Diaz after the two shared time behind the plate in Pittsburgh back in 2019. After earning his first career All Star appearance in 2023, Diaz figures to remain the club’s primary catcher. With that said, Stallings represents a considerable upgrade over the combination of Serven and Austin Wynns the Rockies used to back up Diaz last year. With a stronger backup option to Diaz, the club can afford to take some of the load off of Diaz’s shoulders after a season where he caught a whopping 126 games.
Speaking of Serven, the 28-year-old backstop is headed to Chicago after being squeezed off the Rockies’ 40-man roster by the addition of Stallings. A fifth-round pick by the Rockies back in 2016, Serven made his big league debut in 2022 but has struggled to hit at the big league level with a career .195/.248/.314 slash line in 228 major league plate appearances. Serven appears unlikely to supplant Yan Gomes or Miguel Amaya as part of the Cubs’ primary catching tandem, but he has options remaining and could provide depth for the club at the Triple-A level alongside the likes of Jorge Alfaro and Joe Hudson, both of whom the Cubs brought in on minor league deals earlier this offseason.
As for Trejo, the 27-year-old made his big league debut with the Rockies back in 2021 and has held a utility role with the club ever since, slashing .243/.292/.367 in 145 career big league games while playing second and third base as well as shortstop. Trejo figures to head to Triple-A to open the season and act as non-roster infield depth for the Rockies going forward.