As you’ve likely heard by now, the Twins traded SS J.J. Hardy, IF Brendan Harris, and $500,000 to the Baltimore Orioles for RHP Brett Jacobson and Jim Hoey. With the imminent signing of Japanese infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka and the decision to give Alexi Casilla another shot at starting in the infield, along with the poor market for shortstops allowed the Twins to make Hardy expendable.
First thing I would like to say about this trade is that I don’t like it very much. Once the rumors came out that the Twins were shopping Hardy, I had a feeling that it would happen since trading him would also free up some money for the payroll. However, the nail in the coffin for me was when Ron Gardenhire announced that he wanted to add more speed to the lineup. Considering that Hardy is a rather slow runner, he became the first candidate to go.
Even though Hardy played pretty well for a shortstop when he was in the lineup, the perception of him is skewed by two things. First, when the Twins acquired him, many people touted Hardy’s 50 home runs from 2007-2008. When he failed to reach even 10 and batted .268/.320/.394 instead of his .280/.333/.470 line from those 2 years, some fans started voicing their displeasure over his inability to hit.
This leads into my second point, which was his wrist injury. Despite many baseball coaches preaching the feet-first slide because it’s less dangerous than the head-first variety, Hardy got hurt when he jammed his wrist into the ground when he slid feet-first into 3rd base. The injury proved to nag him for most of the season, and he may have rushed himself (or was rushed by the Twins*) back into action. Part of the reason why Hardy’s batting line looks so poor is that he played for a couple weeks despite still being hurt, and it wasn’t until the second half of the season that he finally started to show the offensive side fans had been hoping for (hitting .302 from June to the end of the season) when he was acquired.
* I can’t remember if I’ve said this before, but I have the belief that the Twins medical staff isn’t good with diagnosing and treating injuries. Granted, I’m using the “grass is always greener on the other side” argument, but Hardy playing when his wrist wasn’t completely healed, Joe Crede being day-to-day and not playing for a week and a half instead of being placed on the DL, and the misdiagnosis of Pat Neshek’s arm early in 2010 are all check marks against the staff.
It’s certainly frustrating when a good shortstop such as Hardy is traded away, but with Gardenhire’s desire for more speed, the Twins didn’t have many options. While the outfield needs it most, Delmon Young and Jason Kubel can carry the offense at times and Michael Cuddyer’s contract makes him a poor trade chip. Swapping Orlando Hudson and Hardy with Casilla or Nishioka was the easiest way to accomplish this change.
I can see some of Gardenhire’s thought process with adding more speed to the lineup. Since Target Field limited home runs last season, it appears as though gap-to-gap hitters with speed will thrive much more than the power hitters, and stealing bases and taking the extra base would be more helpful to scoring runs. However, it seems like the Twins believe that Target Field is turning home runs into outs, when the truth is that these home runs are turning into doubles and triples in addition to outs. ESPN’s Park Factors supports this claim, as Target Field was above-average in doubles and triples in 2010, despite being below average in allowing home runs (the values given by Park Factors assumes that 1.000 is average).
Although I’m disappointed by trading Hardy, the Twins managed to package him with Brendan Harris, who was outrighted off the 25-man roster in the middle of the season. Harris received a rather dubious contract extension prior to the 2010 season, but considering it was for only $3.2 million over 2 years, it didn’t hamstring the Twins in any way. With Hardy likely commanding a $6.5 million contract for 2011 and Harris being paid $1.75 million, the Twins end up saving roughly $7 million in this trade, even if you include the contracts of Hoey and Jacobson and the $500,000 sent to the Orioles.
Speaking of these two pitchers, they’re nothing special by any means, but they do represent something rather interesting. Starting with the acquisition of Matt Capps last season (and if you exclude Brian Fuentes), the Twins have now acquired 3 relief pitchers in less than half a year that can throw in the mid-90s. I don’t think this is necessarily a change in philosophy for the bullpen, but it does seem like the Twins are finally starting to embrace the fact that control pitchers aren’t the only type of pitcher that can get outs. These two pitchers should be treated as projects, but if you remember Juan Morillo from a couple years ago, I believe Hoey and Jacobson will be much easier for the coaches to turn into more consistent strike throwers.
Finally, many people are treating this like it’s the Johan Santana trade and loss of Torii Hunter double-whammy all over again, but I’m going to withhold my complete judgment until the season starts. As I said above, the Twins should be expected to save about $7 million with this trade. That money could go elsewhere, such as re-signing Jim Thome and/or Carl Pavano, or perhaps bringing in some completely new players.
I do have one final thought, and it somewhat involves Hardy. If the Twins do re-sign Pavano, I highly doubt that he will pitch as well as he did in 2010 for two reasons. One, that was a great season and I don’t think we should expect him to be able to have a sub-4 ERA every year. Second, Pavano was a groundball-type pitcher last year. Hardy had great range as a shortstop. Although we don’t know how well Casilla and Nishioka will be defensively over a full season, I’m willing to bet that the loss of Hardy would contribute into making Pavano a worse pitcher in 2011.