The Pirates have signed former Diamondbacks reliever Daniel Hudson to a two-year, $11 million deal, Jeff Passan reports.
Bill Brink reported the Pirates’ interest in Hudson two weeks ago. As I noted at the time, Hudson bears superficial similarities to Neftali Feliz, whose spot in the bullpen he’ll effectively replace. He’s a hard thrower (with an average fastball velocity last year of 95.7 MPH) who’s had past successes but hasn’t fared well recently in the wake of issues that have required Tommy John surgery. (Hudson has had TJ twice in the last four and a half years; Feliz had it in 2012.) Hudson’s results last year were ugly, with a 5.22 ERA, only a bit better than Feliz’s 6.38 2015 campaign.
Hudson’s peripherals were significantly better than that ERA, though, with a 4.12 xFIP and a 3.84 SIERA. His 8.7 K/9 and reasonable walk numbers suggest he can potentially be effective, and he has time on his side as well, since he doesn’t turn 30 until March. Hudson looks, in other words, like a candidate to perform better next year, before even considering whatever benefits Ray Searage and PNC Park can bring him.
Obviously, the Pirates are paying Hudson significantly more than they paid Feliz, who only made $3.9 million (and even that salary looked, at the time, like a lot to pay someone like Feliz). In fact, two years and $11 million is exactly what I predicted Feliz would get this offseason after a good 2016 season.
Well, you can forget about that. Huge salaries for relievers of all types (from elite closers like Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen to mediocrities like Mike Dunn) have driven the market way up this season, meaning that if the Pirates wanted to add to their bullpen, they were going to have to pay a lot more heavily than they have in the past. There’s also the fact that teams seem increasingly wise to the Pirates’ tactics of rehabbing promising-looking pitchers coming off bad years, and are trying to do the same thing themselves.
Here’s the Pirates’ current bullpen depth chart, in approximate order:
That’s a very left-handed group, so the presence of the right-handed Hudson balances things out a bit and sets up the possibility of a trade involving one of the lefties. That makes sense. And if the Pirates have confidence in Hudson’s rebound ability, it makes sense to trust them to a degree, because they’ve been right many times before and because a lot of Hudson’s rebound potential is obvious just from looking at his stat line.
The question is, with the Pirates seemingly in dire straits financially, whether $11 million for a non-closing reliever was the best use of their limited funds. Perhaps it was - teams, including a lot of smart ones, increasingly seem to believe improving their bullpen represents their most obvious path to improvement, and maybe salaries for other player types have become so exorbitant that the Pirates feel adding a reliever who has the potential to be good is the best they can do.
But the Bucs have an even more glaring hole in their rotation, and Ivan Nova is still out there, in addition to some trade options who would cost money going forward. If signing Hudson to an eight-figure deal forces them to pursue Ryan Vogelsong v2.0 instead of a suitable rotation option, it might not turn out to be the best use of funds. But if signing Hudson frees the Pirates to, say, trade Watson for a capable young starter, it could turn out just fine.