Everybody loves a good comeback story and Daniel Hudson most certainly fits that mold. He went from being cut by the Angels last March to recording a scoreless, World Series-clinching ninth inning for the Nationals in October that included strikeouts of Jose Altuve and Michael Brantley. After signing a $1 million minor-league deal last offseason, the 32-year-old free agent is expected to garner significant interest this offseason. MLB Trade Rumors is predicting that he will sign a two-year, $12 million deal. When it comes to trustworthy relievers, $6 million per year seems like a small price to pay and it’s an investment the Red Sox should consider making.
Boston’s bullpen struggled in many areas last year, finishing the 2019 season dead last in Major League Baseball in walks per nine innings with 4.38, while also finishing 19th in WHIP (1.39) and 22nd in left on-base percentage (71.6). It’s definitely not fair to blame the lack of success fully on the pitchers themselves as one could argue that Dave Dombrowski dropped the ball by not obtaining any relief help prior to the 2019 season or the trade deadline. The rotation also didn’t make things any easier on Boston’s lackluster bullpen, tossing a combined 806 innings in 2019, which was the eighth-fewest of any rotation in the league and about 65 innings fewer than 2018. Red Sox relievers were taxed to the brim with 685 innings pitched in 2019, the sixth-most in MLB, compared to 587.1 IP in 2018. So the personnel arguably got worse but the workload increased. I’m no expert, but I’m not surprised that didn’t work out in Boston’s favor.
The good news for the Sox is that Brandon Workman and Matt Barnes will likely both be back in the bullpen for the 2020 season. Workman is coming off a career year, while Barnes also posted encouraging numbers in 2019. Workman, 30, had the best batting average against (.121) and sixth-best ERA (1.88) among relievers with at least 50 innings pitched in 2019, per Fangraphs. His ERA+ of 256 was far and away a career best, nearly doubling his previous career-high of 144 in 2017, according to Baseball Reference. The right-hander proved that he is capable of closing out games going forward, which is what the Red Sox needed someone to do after losing Craig Kimbrel. Barnes also posted a career-high in ERA+ of 128 and the 2nd-best K/9 rating (15.38) among relievers with 50 IP, behind only Milwaukee’s Josh Hader (16.41). Even given the success both of those guys enjoyed last season, it’s pretty clear to me that Chaim Bloom needs to do something to bolster the bullpen this offseason and I think Hudson might be that guy.
Hudson, who will turn 33 in March, posted a modest 2.47 ERA last season with 73.0 innings pitched between Toronto and Washington. It was the most successful campaign he’s had since switching to a full-time reliever in 2015. If the Red Sox are going to invest in any relievers this offseason, I hope it’s Hudson. Now that Will Smith and Chris Martin have both signed with the Braves, Hudson and Will Harris are the best free agent options remaining on a relatively weak relief market. Given the financial limitations seemingly put on the team by ownership this winter, it’s hard to imagine Bloom spending big money on one of the top free-agent starters available, especially given the money already tied up with current members of Boston’s rotation. However, knowing how much the bullpen struggled last season, I am hopeful that a new reliever may be in the Red Sox’ future. I said the same thing after Kimbrel and Joe Kelly signed elsewhere following the 2018 season though, so I don’t even trust me at this point.
Hudson would be a great compliment to Barnes and Workman and could give the Sox the bullpen stability they lacked at times last year. Hudson totaled 12 saves in 2019, including four in the postseason, so we know he can still be trusted to pitch in high leverage situations, though he likely wouldn’t be asked to close in Boston. He served primarily as a setup man in Toronto and stranded 22 of 23 inherited runners before being traded to the Nationals. Hudson did allow five inherited runners to score in 40 innings pitched with Washington, but three of those came in one outing, per Baseball Reference. Trust seemed hard to come by for Boston in the later innings last season and Alex Cora can’t ask Barnes and Workman to pitch every night next season, so getting another reliable reliever should be at the top of Bloom’s offseason wish list.
Hudson has had Tommy John Surgery twice now, most recently in 2013. He has pitched 311 innings since then, missing just one extended stretch with forearm tightness in 2018 during his time with the Dodgers. The Red Sox were reportedly one of the teams that showed interest in Hudson prior to the deadline last season, so maybe the team isn’t all that worried about his injury history. If Hudson is healthy, signing him to a short-term deal is exactly the type of investment the front office needs to make to put a better team on the field next season.