But is Orlando Hudson close to signing with the Nationals? Sounds like the O-Dog will finally make a decision before the week is up, choosing between Washington, Minnesota, Cleveland and any other surprise suitors that pop up between now and then. (UPDATE: FoxSports.com says Seattle may now be in the mix as well.)
Rest assured, the decision surely will be a financial one. This is a guy who made $6.25 million with the Diamondbacks in 2008, then had to settle for a little more than $3.3 million last year with the Dodgers and wound up as an All-Star and a Gold Glove winner. Clearly, Hudson thinks he's worth more than that. The question is whether any of the above teams are willing to meet his demands, or whether he'll have to settle for the best offer on the table.
When I say "best offer," I don't necessarily mean the most money. In this case, the possibility of a multi-year deal could be more important than a 2010 salary. And this is where the Nats could emerge victorious.
Mike Rizzo seems pretty adamant that Hudson isn't worth more than $3 million to $4 million per season and isn't likely to budge on that front. But what if Rizzo is willing to give him $3 million in 2010, plus a 2011 option worth $4 million? Would that be more appealing to Hudson than, say, a $4.5 million offer from another team that covers only one year?
If you're Hudson, length of contract might very well be more important, because at this point, you may have reason to wonder if your value will decrease even more in another year. As much as everyone loves to rave about the O-Dog as a player and as a clubhouse presence, there's some genuine concern around the sport that the 32-year-old's best days are already behind him. Scouts who have watched him for years say he doesn't have the range he once did and say a lingering wrist issue has stripped away some of his power at the plate.
Given all that, the Nats are understandably reluctant to break the bank for Hudson. But they also know that if healthy and productive, Hudson would be a great fit for this team. Both in 2010 and in 2011.
It's been kind of lost in the shuffle amid all the talk of acquiring a middle infielder this winter, but Washington's long-term picture up the middle is even murkier than the short-term picture. Remember, Cristian Guzman is entering the final year of his contract (which many, if not most, would consider a good thing). At this moment, the Nats have no idea who their shortstop OR second baseman will be in 2011.
There are some promising young guys who could be ready to take over by next spring: Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa, Jeff Kobernus. Desmond dazzled during his September call-up and still could wind up as the Opening Day 2010 shortstop if the Nats don't land Hudson or another veteran. But several club officials still question whether Desmond is ready for the job, or whether he'd be better served opening the year at Class AAA. Even if he is deemed big-league-ready, Desmond will forever be a flashy player both in the field and at the plate but hardly a model of consistency.
Espinosa lands at the other end of the spectrum. He's a very consistent player, especially in the field, and even though he only played at Class A last season, he's viewed by the organization as a "fast-track" guy who could be ready for a cup of coffee in D.C. this September. Having seen him first-hand myself for a couple of days in the Arizona Fall League, I've got to say he looks impressive. He's got an absolute cannon of an arm and an intense work ethic that makes him a manager's dream.
So it's entirely possible we'll be looking at a Desmond-Espinosa double-play combo in 2011. But what happens if one isn't ready to make the leap a year from now? What if neither of them is ready? What do the Nats have left? Nothing.
This is where an option year on Hudson might make sense. Guarantee him one year, and then if he performs well and you're unsure about the kids, pick up his 2011 option and keep him around. If he struggles or if you're convinced the youngsters are ready, buyout the option year at a reduced price.
That still doesn't resolve the potential gaping hole at shortstop once Guzman is gone, if neither Espinosa nor Desmond looks capable of taking over. But at least Rizzo would have one-half of his double-play combo in place, and potentially both pieces of the puzzle for a 2011 squad many believe could have a legitimate chance at success.