It was not an ideal birthday - I spent it confined to my house waiting for the phone repairman (really, AT&T, you can't narrow down your window any better than "some time between 8AM and 6PM? He came at 5:15...). This was even less tolerable after my internet went down at 9:30. But the day was salvaged when I finally got back online and found not only 40 messages in my inbox (mostly birthday wishes from Facebook friends), but news that the Twins were imminently close to signing Orlando Hudson to be their 2B/#2 hitter.
Yes! I followed Hudson's 2009 exploits very closely. I picked him out before last season as a good value for my fantasy team - coming off wrist surgery in 2008, he was someone I could get in the 12th round or so who would give me strong all-around production at the position. And he did not disappoint. Other than a slump in June, he consistently turned in good OBPs with sure-handed defense (.988 fielding %) and 8/9 SB. Though his raw offensive numbers appeared to take a step backwards in 2009, that was largely due to park factors (his 2006-2008 seasons were in the offense-friendly environs of the Bob in AZ). Neutralizing those factors, Baseball Prospectus rated Hudson's 2009 as his best season so far in terms of EQA (.286) and WARP3 (6.2).
Despite that showing, he was benched down the stretch in favor of the scorching hot Ronnie Belliard. Though Belliard's weight is apparently a concern going into the spring, the Dodgers preferred to stick with him rather than offer Hudson a contract, or even arbitration. For the second offseason in a row, Hudson waited into February as the number of available 2B jobs dwindled. At this point, the only teams interested in him were the Nationals, Indians and Twins. Hmmmmm, grind it out for a rebuilding club, or bat ahead of two MVP winners on a contender? The money wasn't what he was hoping for ($5M for one year, apparently), but I think he made the right call.
The Twins entered this offseason in a similar position to last year: they could expect to contend in a rather weak division with the players they had under control, but would be no match for the bigger market teams should they make the playoffs. They are a perfect example of the type of team that can benefit the most from prudent player acquisitions. Every upgrade they make increases the chances of them playing meaningful games in September, and more than just a game or two in October. That's where teams really see a return on their free agent dollars. Since the World Series ended, the Twins have:
Turned Carlos Gomez, a PR/defensive replacement (or an exceptionally poor hitter, if he starts) into JJ Hardy, an everyday SS who was an All-Star in 2007 and is just entering his peak years;
Retained mid-season pickup Carl Pavano to stabilize what had been a volatile young rotation in 2009;
Signed Clay Condrey to add depth to the bullpen after he was non-tendered by Philadelphia;
Signed Jim Thome to provide LH thump off the bench and insurance against injuries to other middle-of-the-order starters;
Signed Hudson to be the everyday 2B and #2 hitter.
They now have better than average hitters at at least 7 of the 9 lineup spots. They have a strong starting rotation, with decent depth at AAA. They have more quality bullpen arms than spots available. Their bench will contain an above-average hitting catcher, a high-OBP slugger, and a couple of plus speed/glove guys. A lot of things still have to break right for the Twins to be as good as the elite teams in the AL, but I have to say that, on paper, they've put together just about the strongest roster $95-ish million could buy.