Braves add Hudson to refortified rotation

By Jim Callis

December 16, 2004

The Braves added their second all-star pitcher in six days on Thursday. After picking up Dan Kolb from the Brewers, Atlanta made an even stronger move to bolster its pitching staff by getting Tim Hudson from the Athletics in exchange for Dan Meyer, Juan Cruz and Charles Thomas.

Kolb’s acquisition allowed the Braves to move John Smoltz from closer to the front of its rotation, and Hudson now makes that starting staff considerably stronger. A 29-year-old righthander, Hudson has a career .702 winning percentage that ranks second behind only Pedro Martinez (.705) among active pitchers. He made the all-star team for the second time in 2004, going 12-6, 3.53 in 27 starts, missing six weeks with a strained left oblique muscle that also bothered him in the 2003 playoffs. He had a 103-44 strikeout-walk ratio in 189 innings, succeeding by getting grounders rather than by blowing opponents away. They batted .267 with just eight homers against him. Hudson’s bread and butter is a low-90s sinker, and he backs it up with a changeup, slider and splitter. His tenacity adds to his package. Hudson’s career record is 92-39, 3.30 in 183 career starts. Oakland’s impetus for trading him was his pending free agency, as he’ll hit the market after making $6.5 million in 2005. The A’s hope that Rich Harden will be able to join Mark Mulder and Barry Zito to form a new Big Three, and that Meyer and/or Joe Blanton will be able to step in at the back of their rotation.

Meyer, a 23-year-old lefthander, made his major league debut in September, pitching two scoreless innings. A supplemental first-round pick (34th overall) in 2002 out of James Madison, he was the highest college draft pick for the Braves since they took Mike Kelly second overall in 1991. Meyer spent most of 2004 in the minors, going 9-6, 2.49 in 26 games (24 starts) between Double-A Greenville and Triple-A Richmond. He had a 146-37 strikeout-walk ratio in 126 innings, while opponents hit .236 with seven homers against him. Meyer does a fine job of throwing strikes and keeping the ball down in the zone, and though he’s usually around the plate he’s not easy to hit. He has two plus pitches in his 91-93 mph fastball and his tight slider, and his changeup is also effective. He may be ready to make the A’s out of spring training, and if he’s not he shouldn’t need much more time in the minors, where he has a career 19-19, 2.71 record in 67 games.

Cruz, a 26-year-old righty, has yet to live up to the promise that once made him one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, but he was very effective out of the bullpen for Atlanta last season. Acquired in a March trade with the Cubs, he went 6-2, 2.75 in 50 games. He had a 70-30 K-BB ratio in 72 innings as opponents hit .224 with seven homers. Cruz still has nasty stuff, featuring a mid-90s sinker, a darting slider and a changeup. All three are plus pitches at times. His biggest need is to improved his location, as he has been vulnerable to homers and ran up high pitch counts as a starter. It’s unclear whether the A’s will try to use him as a starter or a reliever. After making $370,000 in 2004, he’s eligible for arbitration. Cruz has gone 14-21, 3.99 in 128 big league games (23 starts).

Thomas, 25, was a surprise contributor to the Braves’ 13th consecutive division title in 2004. A 19th-round pick out of Western Carolina in 2000, he did little in the minors before coming on at Double-A Greenville at the end of 2003. He carried that momentum into last season, hitting .358/.416/.535 with four homers and 32 RBIs in 61 games at Triple-A Richmond to earn a callup. Thomas filled a need as a platoon left fielder for Atlanta, batting .288/.368/.445 with seven homers and 31 RBIs in 83 games. Whether he can repeat that performance remains to be seen, but he’s an athletic outfielder who laces line drives to the gaps and shows plus speed on the bases. He has better range and arm strength than most left fielders. He could platoon with Eric Byrnes at that position for Oakland.