Alberto vs. Orlando

Now that the Phuzzies have become the former world champions — dropping the World Series to New York’s Jedi Knights – we can return to baseball’s second season: as ultimate a test for GMs and owners as the on-the-field play of their counterparts during the regular season. So it is that the Nats’ off season rumor mill is finally in full swing, with reports circulating that the Nats are once again eyeing second sacker Orlando Hudson as the solution to the team’s problems in the middle infield. Jon Heyman over at SI says that Hudson is looking for other opportunities — as Trolley manager Joe Torre ”employed Ronnie Belliard over him” through much of September and into the playoffs. In fact, it was downright weird watching Belliard shine in the L.A. post-season, particularly considering his embarrassing swing-from-the-heels style of play for the Nats through nearly 120 games. Can it be? Would L.A. really pick Belliard as their second sacker over Hudson?

Ah . . . well, not really. L.A. is all a-glitter over the prospect of signing free agent Adrian Beltre to play third base, with Casey Blake moving over to second — an experiment that keeps Blake’s bat in the line-up while adding a power hitter at the corner. Beltre could, in fact, pump about 20 dingers into the left field seats in Dodger Stadium, giving the kind of power to the Trolley line-up that Raul Ibanez provided in Philadelphia this last year. And L.A.’s his home town. That puts Belliard on the Dodger bench (which is where he, ah, belongs): and makes Hudson expendable. There’s no doubt there’s been an on-again off-again flirtation between the Nats and Hudson which dates back to late 2008 — when the Nats seemingly pursued the glove man, hoping he could fill the infield hole next to Cristian Guzman. In any event, the Hudson-to-the-Nats never quite happened and the “O-Dog” ended up in Hollywood. Now, it seems, there is revived interest in Hudson: the flirtation continues.

But is Hudson the right fit for D.C.?

Right here (in this paragraph), we might take a look at Hudson’s stats, which are more than presentable (.283, 9 HRs, 62 RBIs — and, more importantly, a good glove), and then follow that with talk about how Hudson would add some badly needed punch to an anemic middle infield. But all of that would beg the question: the problem up the middle for the Nats is not at second base, it’s at shortstop — and bringing Hudson in not only doesn’t solve that problem, it short-circuits the end-of-season discussion about moving Cristian Guzman to second and finding someone (like Ian Desmond) to play Guzman’s position. I’ve argued before that moving Guzman to second doesn’t solve anything. And it doesn’t. In fact, signing Hudson only creates an additional problem: for if Guzman can’t play second any better than he played short and if Ian Desmond doesn’t work out (and he might not) then you don’t have one problem, you have two.

Even so, the “we want Orlando” bandwagon is entering its first stage, in large part because no one is sold on Alberto Gonzalez — including outspoken MASN announcers Bob Carpenter and Rob Dibble and regular Nats commentator Bill Ladson. Ladson pegs Gonzalez as no more than a sometimes substitute. “I think it’s pretty clear that he is no more than a backup,” Ladson said in a recent column. “I was shocked with the way he played after interim manager Jim Riggleman made him the everyday second baseman. There were times I thought he wasn’t fundamentally sound with the bat and glove.” Really? Gonzalez hit .265 in 105 games, and while he wasn’t exactly a whiz kid at second, he wasn’t a disaster. While Gonzalez ended the season with an admittedly paltry OBP of .299, he finished the season strong, hitting .344 in his last ten games. Gonzalez is young, has a good attitude and he’ll only get better. In fact, he might get a lot better.  

Hudson, on the other hand, will make somewhere in the range of $5 million to $7 million per year (and he’s not about to sign a single year contract) and his rumored wrist problem is worrisome. He will be 32, on the down side of his prime years. Gonzalez will only get better: Hudson can only get worse. Why spend $5-$7 million a year (over three years, I’ll bet you) for a guy who might have a problem staying in the line-up. Of course, Hudson hits a hellava lot better than Gonzalez (no question) and has a stellar glove (he’s one of the best fielding second sacker in the majors), but he’s iffy in a way that Felipe Lopez was iffy. Then too (we might remember) Joe Torre thought that, when the chips were down, Ronnie Belliard was the better player. That oughta tell us something. So what should the Nats do? At least one of the options they should consider would be to take the money they would save on signing the “O-Dog” — let’s call it “Hudson Money” — and spend it on buying a solid front rank free agent pitcher. It comes down to this: who would you rather have? Orlando Hudson — or Jon Garland? Or Joel Pineiro? Or even Jason Marquis?