Perhaps the Cardinals just need to get some new problems, or Orlando Hudson just needs to sign a long-term contract—it seems like once a year, at a minimum, we talk about whether or not he's the right man for the job at second base. I think the first thing to think about when answering this question is the logistical one—what do the Cardinals do with Skip Schumaker after they've signed Hudson?
The Cardinals, for reasons still unknown to me, extended Schumaker for two years prior to the 2010 season, as if daring him to have an off season and reprise the Hudson talks. He could split time between the outfield and the infield, but as a utility infielder he's pretty limited, and as an outfielder he would be squeezed for playing time, given the platoon solution the team's pursuing in right. I'm not sure there's $2 million of value in being the fifth outfielder and the second second baseman.
But baseball is one of the few situations in which there's no crying over spilt millions, and assuming the Cardinals aren't confident in Schumaker as their second baseman Hudson is one relatively cheap way to fill the position. From there—what does he do that Schumaker doesn't?
Starting from what Schumaker doesn't do, the most pronounced upgrade the Cardinals would get in this situation is defense. As promising as the situation looked when he made progress throughout 2009, he's a bad second baseman. Maybe not the worst, but bad enough that -10 runs seems like a reasonable expectation for him in 2011. 31 next season, he might have reached the point where increased experience at the position and age cancel each other out for a while, so I don't expect any major improvement or regression on defense.
Hudson's 34 and has been an enigma on defense for a while now; there was a while, when David Pinto was doing his work on PMR, where he appeared to be one of the very best defensive players in baseball, but after that passed—I think there might have been park issues, or something similar—he's been inconsistent. He owns -10 and a +10 seasons per UZR since 2008, and they're not arranged in the way you'd expect. I think it's safe to say he'd be average, maybe a little better, and move from there. A win better on defense is pretty nice—Chris Carpenter would GAF about it.
He's also been a slightly better hitter than Schumaker, and a better baserunner; they both had their worst seasons on offense in some time last year, but Hudson dropped to .268/.338/.371, Schumaker to .265/.328/.338. The Bill James projections, out recently, are bullish on both, predictably, but like Hudson more—.276/.351/.396 to .285/.346/.372.
Hudson is an improvement, but given how bad Schumaker was last season he's not a huge one. What he offers, even at 34, is stability; fewer moving parts have contributed to Hudson's position, where with Schumaker we have to worry about his poor minor league numbers, his limited track record, his awkward defense, and his offensive collapse.
If the Cardinals are going to upgrade in the infield, I think they have to try to do better than stability and comfort; Schumaker and Ryan are likely to regress a little in the fun direction, even if it seems unlikely after watching them hit all season, and moving from Schumaker to Hudson is a case of not trusting that enough in a season where the Cardinals have a budget that's going to require some Jay/Craig-sized trust in free and cheap parts.