Monday, November 09, 2009

Wasting No Time

Any concerns I had that Bill Smith and the Twins would become complacent in addressing lineup holes this offseason after enjoying a successful overall season offensively in 2009 were quickly assuaged on Friday morning when the club announced that they'd traded Carlos Gomez to the Brewers for J.J. Hardy. As a relatively young shortstop who remains controllable for two more years and who has historically hit for power while playing great defense, Hardy seemed destined to be a hot commodity this winter after Milwaukee had made clear that he'd be available. Smith wasted no time in taking the 27-year-old infielder off the market, completing a swap just as the Yankees were parading through New York City to celebrate their World Series victory -- still only two days old.

That the Twins were interested in Hardy comes as no huge surprise. He's a very logical fit for this team and was in fact the very top player listed among our potential trade targets in the TwinsCentric Offseason GM Handbook. Here's what I wrote about Hardy there:

Age: 27 (DOB: 8/19/82) | Contract Status: Arb Elig
2009 Stats: .229/.302/.357, 11 HR, 47 RBI
With the free agent market for shortstops looking exceedingly thin and the Twins lacking any legitimate prospects at that position, it appears that the only way to make a meaningful upgrade might be through a trade. Teams generally aren’t willing to part with capable young shortstops that are competent at the dish and in the field, but Hardy may be an exception. He is coming off a dismal offensive year, but he had averaged 25 homers and 77 RBI in the two seasons prior and he’s only 27 years old. Plus, he rates quite well defensively. The Brewers have a major-league ready SS prospect in Alcides Escobar, so they may be willing to deal Hardy even though his value is down. They’d likely seek big-league ready pitching in return.
Here's a more in-depth scouting report on Hardy, courtesy of Kyle Lobner from the Brewers blog Brew Crew Ball (you can also read a take on the trade from that blog here):

The Twins are getting a solid defensive shortstop in Hardy, but his potential contribution as an offensive player is unknown at best. After having two above average seasons in 2007 and 2008, including an All Star appearance in 2007, Hardy's stat line at the plate declined dramatically in 2009, when he posted a .659 OPS, the lowest of his major league career, with a .229/.302/.357 line.

A fair portion of Hardy's struggles last season can probably be attributed to luck: Hardy hit .264 on balls in play last season, down from .280 over the course of his career, and only connected for home runs on 8.3% of his fly balls, down from his 11.2% career total. However, it's hard to blame all of Hardy's struggles on luck: His line drive percentage has dropped in each of the last four seasons, from 19% in 2006 all the way down to 13.9% last season. Hardy had some tough luck early, hitting a lot of line drives at defenders, but never seemed to recover or make the adjustments necessary to regain his stride. He also doesn't take many pitches; his career walk rate is just 8.3% and his career OBP is .323.

Even if Hardy doesn't bounce back offensively, he's a very good defensive shortstop. FanGraphs has him listed as saving 29.7 runs in the field over the last three seasons, good for roughly three wins. There's another interesting note in those numbers, though: Hardy saved 14.8 runs in 2007, 8.2 in 2008 and 6.7 in 2009. While Hardy's 30 runs saved over the last three seasons ranked sixth among major league shortstops during that span, his 6.7 last season was outside the top ten. His UZR/150 over the last three seasons have been 16.7, 8.5 and 8.8.

You might think a guy as defensively gifted as Hardy would have to have some pretty notable athletic ability but you'd be wrong, at least when it comes to running speed. Hardy might be one of major league baseball's slowest shortstops. He frequently looks like he's dragging an anchor behind him on the basepaths, and struggles to take the extra base in situations where a runner with average speed would get in easily. He also only turned 7 ground balls into infield hits in 2009 - that 4.5% was the sixth lowest among shortstops with at least 460 PAs.

Hardy will likely get a raise in arbitration, even if it is a
small one, and made $4.65 million in 2009. With that said, the Brewers' decision to demote Hardy to AAA for 20 days in August pushed his arbitration clock back a year, and he'll be under the Twins' control for two more seasons, should they decide to hang onto him.

Many were surprised that the pitching-starved Brewers didn't move Hardy in return for a young starter (I had suggested Glen Perkins, whose name may or may not have come up in these discussions depending on who you listen to), but Gomez fills a need as well. With Mike Cameron departing, the Brewers were looking for another strong defensive center fielder, and they'll hope that with regular playing time in 2010 he can start to realize his offensive potential while tracking down everything between left and right.

Reaction to this trade from Twins fans has been overwhelmingly positive, and with good reason. As mentioned in my writeup from the Handbook and in Lobner's report, Hardy had been an excellent hitter during the two seasons prior to 2009. It is, however, difficult to ignore the struggles that the shortstop experienced during this past season. There was no major injury to explain away his dismal hitting, and with a strikeout rate that has jumped for three straight seasons, there are some who believe his drop-off last year was no fluke. If he is unable to improve somewhat significantly on his disappointing production in '09, Hardy will hardly be the dramatic upgrade this team is looking for at the bottom of the lineup. But the Twins certainly seem confident that he can rebound, and his power potential is very intriguing for a club that hasn't gotten a .400 slugging percentage from the shortstop position since 2001 and hasn't had a 20-HR hitter there since 1979.

The loss of Gomez is being downplayed by many who have grown tired of his mental mistakes and offensive ineptitude, but his departure is not insignificant. Twins' pitchers allowed the highest fly ball percentage of any team in the majors this year, and that doesn't figure to change significantly next season. In trading Gomez, the Twins seem to be committing to an outfield alignment of Delmon Young, Denard Span and Michael Cuddyer, which represents an incredibly vast downgrade from the Span/Gomez/Cuddyer alignment. Hardy is a better defensive player than anyone the Twins trotted out at shortstop this season, but given the nature of this pitching staff, swapping out Gomez for Hardy will likely lead to an overall drop in defensive proficiency.

Of course, Gomez's slick glove doesn't do much good when he's stuck on the bench, and Gardenhire seemed to have made up his mind on which young outfielder he was going to commit to by the end of the year. In September and October, as the Twins made a furious dash for the playoffs, Young started in the outfield 26 times; Gomez only eight. For better or for worse, Gomez had become the fourth outfielder on this club, and any time you can trade a reserve player for a starting shortstop you've done pretty well for yourself.

Hardy is a nice addition with the potential to provide serious power from the bottom of the lineup (or perhaps the No. 2 spot, if Gardenhire feels so misguidedly inclined) while likely upgrading the team's defense at one of the most important spots on the field. Gomez's departure also seemingly finalizes the club's outfield situation, effectively putting an end to the tired Gomez vs. Young debates. Second base and third base remain uncertain, along with at least one spot in the pitching rotation, so Smith's work is hardly done. But, less than a week into the offseason, he has already gotten a running start on his work for this pivotal offseason. Meanwhile, he has very quickly put to rest any worries that he'd be sitting on his hands as the team prepares to defend its AL Central title in the first year at Target Field.

Smith deserves credit for this bold, aggressive move. Even if it does mean that one of my very favorite Twins players will be suiting up across the border next season.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

now let's buy out one of Hardy's FA years with something like a 3yr/$20 million dollar deal.

lookatthosetwins said...

Buying out free agent years would be a pretty high risk at this point, but might be worth it. If you wait until he bounces back, the salary will be higher. If you do it now, you could possibly get him on the cheap. But he might never bounce back, and we'd be paying him for nothing. I'd be for it, if the price was reasonable.

Jack Steal said...

Nick,

Who do you see the Twins signing as a veteran pitcher to help out the starting rotation. Carl Pavano, Josh Johnson, or will they try to trade for Roy Halladay. We all know Nick Punto is going to start at second base but will they after someone like Adrian Beltre or settle with Joe Crede.

Nick N. said...

Who do you see the Twins signing as a veteran pitcher to help out the starting rotation. Carl Pavano, Josh Johnson, or will they try to trade for Roy Halladay. We all know Nick Punto is going to start at second base but will they after someone like Adrian Beltre or settle with Joe Crede.

I definitely think they'll pursue a veteran starter. Would not be at all surprised or disappointed to see Pavano back; short of that my guess is that they'll target Jarrod Washburn, which would not be advisable.

Punto will almost certainly be starting somewhere next year, but don't assume it'll be second base. With the far deeper market for second basemen this winter, it would make sense to throw Punto at third short-term with a legitimate No. 2 hitter taking over at second.

Steve-No said...

Well the Hardy deal is done and there's nothing that can be done about it now. Were I Bill Smith, my first priority would be to find a way to replace Delmon Young.

Smith needs to keep a keen eye on whether Boston decides to re-sign Rocco Baldelli. If they do not re-sign him, he would be an upgrade in left field over Young.

It's time for Smith to forget about being embarrassed about the trade he was slaughtered on that brought Young to Minnesota and deal him for a minor league prospect -- if he can acquire Baldelli.

If something resembling this switch-out does not occur, the Twins' outfield will be too weak defensively to be relevant in 2010.

Nick N. said...

Smith needs to keep a keen eye on whether Boston decides to re-sign Rocco Baldelli. If they do not re-sign him, he would be an upgrade in left field over Young.

Baldelli is an interesting name. If he became available, I think I'd actually sign him to play center while sliding Span back to left.

Carl Wendorff said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Not too bad a deal said...

I wonder if there is any interest in Randy Wolf or Jeff Weaver from the Dodgers. Both have 10 years experience in the major league. Randy Wolf is Type-A and has only pitched in the NL, but he had a productive year. Jeff Weaver is Type-B, but has pitched in the AL.

Bryz said...

I wonder if there is any interest in Randy Wolf or Jeff Weaver from the Dodgers.

Randy Wolf would be interesting and maybe a good idea. Weaver, please avoid him at all costs.

Anonymous said...

Smith needs to keep a keen eye on whether Boston decides to re-sign Rocco Baldelli. If they do not re-sign him, he would be an upgrade in left field over Young.

Ridiculous, idiotic statement.

Young will be a regular outfielder in the majors long after Baldelli hangs up his spikes.

lookatthosetwins said...

Anon,

Saying that something is a ridiculous, idiotic statement with no evidence is the epitomy of ridiculous and idiotic. Rocco Baldelli is not a world beater, but if he stays healthy, would definitely be an upgrade over Young. Yes, Young probably will be an outfielder long after Baldelli hangs up his spikes, but I'm not sure what that has to do with next year.

Baldelli projects as a league average hitter and slightly above average left fielder. All in all, slightly below average player. Delmon is a horrible fielder in left, and a below average hitter. all in all, AAA quality player.

Delmon may get better in the future, but if we want to win in 2010, LF would be an easy place to upgrade, especially with someone cheap like Baldelli.

Nick N. said...

Young will be a regular outfielder in the majors long after Baldelli hangs up his spikes.

When Baldelli was 24, he had a .289/.329/.451 career hitting line and he was a strong defensive center fielder. Young, at 24, has a .290/.322/.416 and is a terrible defensive left fielder. Not sure there's much ground to call Young a significantly better player at this point.

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