Inside Pitch: Hudson A Leading Man

The A's might churn out good pitchers from their farm system regularly these days, but there was a time when the Oakland farm system was devoid of pitching prospects. Then along came Tim Hudson and everything changed.

When the A's drafted Tim Hudson in the sixth round of the 1997 amateur draft, few could have expected that he was the guy who would finally break the Oakland pitching curse. Hudson was a skinny kid who many scouts projected to be a better outfielder then a pitcher. Nevertheless, it was only two short years later that Hudson was debuting for the Oakland A's against the New York Yankees. And from that moment on, the franchise went from being pitching poor to having an embarassment of riches on the mound.

Hudson's emergence during the second half of the 1999 season broke a horrible two-decade stretch in which the A's didn't develop any home-grown pitchers. The best they had to show from 1981-1998 were pitchers Chris Codiroli and Curt Young. From Todd Van Poppel to Ariel Prieto to John Wasdin to Kirk Dressendorfer, the A's had endured a stretch where every one of their highly touted pitching prospects failed to make the grade on the major league level.

It was this failure to develop major league-caliber pitching that caused the A's to fall from the top of the heap in the American League to a 90+ loss team by the mid-1990s. One year, the A's pitching staff was so bad that Manager Tony La Russa suggested that the A's go with a rotation of six or seven starters who would throw 2-4 innings in each game (sometimes appearing in the same game) because he didn't have one starter he trusted to go more then a few innings at a time.

That all changed with Hudson. Since that time, the A's farm system has produced Mark Mulder, Barry Zito, and Rich Harden. In addition, the A's expect major contributions from farmhands Joe Blanton, Huston Street and Jairo Garcia in the near future. The A's now have a tradition of pitching excellence, which can be traced back to the emergence of the A's fiery ace.

The Long Good-Bye

Tim Hudson's historical significance to the A's franchise may be in part what is preventing A's General Manager Billy Beane from pulling a quick trigger on a trade that would send Hudson away from Oakland. Tim Hudson was the name du jour at the winter meetings. Speculation that Hudson would be dealt was so strong, it seemed it wasn't if Hudson would be traded, it was when and where.

However, when the meetings wrapped up on Monday, Beane had yet to make the trade that most feel is inevitable. It's no secret the A's can't afford to keep Hudson, Mulder and Zito. In the past, Beane has resisted trading his soon-to-be star free agents. He milked every game out of Jason Giambi and Miguel Tejada but seems willing to change that philosophy now.

"Each case is always unique to that time," Beane said. "In this case, this is unique here. Every case depends on individual. You won't blanket every year and put yourself in that corner."

Beane isn't under orders to trade Hudson, who will become a free agent at the end of the 2005 season. He insisted that Hudson's demand of a contract extension by March 1 wouldn't be a factor in the decision he makes.

"Tim's statements are not something that are unique from a guy in his position," Beane said. "I think there's a reason he did it, and he explained it to me. It wasn't that big a deal. Ultimately, it probably won't have an impact anyway."

Beane appears resigned to trading Hudson, but parting with him hasn't been easy. The A's GM spent almost the entire Winter Meeting holed up in his hotel suite and he looked emotionally drained by the end of the meetings. When the meetings broke on Monday night, Beane was believed to be in negotiations with at least one team involving Hudson but he was apparently still hunting for the perfect package.

Beane hasn't stated what he wants in return for Hudson, but it's widely believed to start with a young pitcher ready for the majors, another pitcher and either a second baseman or an outfielder.

The combined salaries of those players needs to be significantly less than the $6.5 million Hudson is owed next year, or else the deal makes no sense for the A's. In the deal, the A's hope they can find another pitcher who can continue the recent tradition of pitching excellence in Oakalnd that started with Tim Hudson.

High Return

Tim Hudson might have been a mid-round draft choice, but the A's are otherwise building a team of former high draft picks. The A's will potentially sport six former first-round picks in the starting lineup next year. Center fielder Mark Kotsay (Marlins, 1996), right fielder Nick Swisher (A's, 2002), third baseman Eric Chavez (A's, 1996), shortstop Bobby Crosby (A's, 2001), catcher Jason Kendall (Pirates, 1992), and any of three starting pitchers: Barry Zito (A's, 1999), Mark Mulder (A's, 1998) and Joe Blanton (A's, 2002).

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