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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Hudson signing speaks to Sabean's M.O.

Hudson signing speaks to Sabean's M.O.

Hudson signing speaks to Sabean's M.O.

Tim Hudson seems to be a smart fit for the Giants on a bunch of different levels. First, though, a word about Giants general manager Brian Sabean.

It's a thing of beauty, watching this guy put a team together. Sabean began his baseball career by spending a dozen years in player development, and that background is evident in times like this.

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Great scouts trust their guts on certain things. It doesn't matter what you think or what I think, they simply have a feel that something is going to work out, and they can't always explain why.

All they know is that roster building is as much an art as science. Sabean saw value in Aubrey Huff when almost no one else did. Likewise with Cody Ross and Marco Scutaro and Angel Pagan.

Huff and Ross were important in helping the Giants win the World Series in 2010. Meanwhile, Scutaro and Pagan contributed to another title in 2012.

Yes, the strength of those championship teams was all that starting pitching. If a team has pitching, it's going to be in every game, and so it becomes much easier to piece a lineup together from a bunch of different places.

Even if you didn't think the Giants were going to win another World Series in 2013, you surely would never have guessed how it was all going to fall apart.

Say this for the Giants: They saw it coming.

Their No. 1 goal last Spring Training was to identify starting pitching depth in the organization because they knew it wasn't going to go on forever.

Manager Bruce Bochy spoke to the extraordinary run of starting pitching when he said he hadn't even had a long man in his bullpen for, oh, three or four years.

And then in 2013, it came undone. From 94 victories and a championship to 76 victories and no playoff berth.

Matt Cain struggled for the first time in his career. Ryan Vogelsong, Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito had their problems.

Suddenly, an organization built around pitching and defense no longer had pitching. Only the Phillies and Rockies had a worse starting rotation among the 15 National League teams.

It's one thing to find a right-handed bat or an eighth-inning reliever. Those things are relatively easy for someone like Sabean. This time, though, he had to repair the rotation. Sabean will eventually have to find someone to play left field, and he needs a reliever or two.

But unless Sabean upgraded the rotation, left field wasn't going to matter. He was decisive in re-signing right fielder Hunter Pence and Lincecum.

To give Lincecum $35 million over two years is to suggest that Sabean still believes in him despite a 4.76 ERA the last two seasons. That's a far cry from a 2.98 ERA for his first five.

The Giants probably don't believe Lincecum will ever record a 2.98 ERA again, but down the stretch, they believe they saw enough from him to think he's capable of contributing to a winning team with diminished velocity.

With many teams still feeling out the market, Sabean struck quickly again on Monday by agreeing to a two-year, $23 million deal with Tim Hudson.

Hudson is 38 years old and coming off a gruesome ankle injury. But there's no reason to think he still can't perform at a high level. Until he got hurt in late July, he'd compiled a 3.97 ERA over 131 1/3 innings with the Braves.

Because of his relentless work ethic and because he has long since made the transition from power to knowing how to keep hitters off balance, Hudson should fit nicely behind Madison Bumgarner and Cain in the Giants' rotation.

Hudson also has a reputation for being one of the great teammates in the game. He could be good for one of his teammates, in particular, as Lincecum figures out that movement, location and a game plan are at least as important as velocity. That Sabean moved as quickly as he did on Hudson says all you need to know about how much he liked the guy.

This is a thin free-agent market, but there are at least a dozen intriguing starting pitchers out there at an assortment of price ranges. Sabean may add another to his roster, with Bronson Arroyo and Josh Johnson seen by some as his most likely targets.

And there's figuring out who'll play left field, whether there's a full-time answer or someone who'd be best sharing the position with Gregor Blanco.

The NL West is typically fascinating. The Dodgers are as close to a complete team as there is in the game. If the Padres can have good health for just one season, they can be a factor. And the D-backs and Rockies both have enough intriguing young pitchers to surprise.

For now, though, it's the Giants who've positioned themselves right behind the Dodgers, and their general manager probably isn't done trying to close the gap.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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