Back in December 2010, Major League Baseball saw two shortstops get swapped to different teams in just over a week. On the 9th, the Twins agreed on a trade with the Baltimore Orioles, headlined by J.J. Hardy, while the Tampa Bay Rays sent Jason Bartlett to the San Diego Padres on the 17th. While these two players had their own strengths and weaknesses, we could certainly argue that these players were both very similar in talent.
Yet the return for Bartlett greatly exceeded what the Twins received, and the Twins even sent over another player (Brendan Harris) and cash ($500,000) in their trade. The Padres sent 4 players total to the Rays, though those with major league experience had yet to stick for a full season (relievers Adam Russell and Cesar Ramos) while the other two (reliever Brandon Gomes and infielder Cole Figueroa) had never made it to the bigs. Meanwhile, the Twins return was noticeably smaller: reliever Jim Hoey, who hadn’t seen major league action since 2007, and minor league reliever Brett Jacobsen.
Well, it would be easy to say that Harris didn’t carry much – if any – trade value. After all, the Twins did have to send some cash to the Orioles. However, I have to think that the Twins did poorly with this trade. I’m not sure if they were shopping Hardy to particular suitors or the Padres were dead-set on getting Bartlett, but it seems like the Rays ended up much better off than the Twins, despite the two teams giving up comparable players. First, let’s take a look at Bartlett and Hardy.
Note: All stats are from the player’s career prior to 2011 unless otherwise noted.
Jason Bartlett (31 years old, debuted in 2004)
.281/.345/.385, .328 wOBA, 29 HR, 242 RBI, 363 runs, 100 SB, 18.8 UZR, 14.9 WAR
J.J. Hardy (28 years old, debuted in 2005)
.263/.323/.423, .324 wOBA, 81 HR, 303 RBI, 323 runs, 6 SB, 44.2 UZR, 15.5 WAR
See what I mean when I say that these two were very similar? Bartlett is the faster and slightly better hitter in terms of batting average and OBP, but Hardy’s power makes their wOBA a wash. Hardy is by far the better defender, though both were above average. Finally, if you sort by WAR over the 2004-2010 time frame for shortstops, Hardy and Bartlett are #11 and #12, respectively.
And yet, the Rays not only got more in return for Bartlett than the Twins did with Hardy, but it appears as though they received better players as well. First, the Rays side.
Note: Age, seasons played, and stats are all from when the respective trade happened.
Adam Russell, RHP (27 years old, 3 seasons)
49 games, 54 innings, 4.50 ERA, 2.90 FIP, 9.00 K/9, 4.33 BB/9, 0.17 HR/9, .352 BABIP
Russell originally came to San Diego in the Jake Peavy deal, having played only one season with the Chicago White Sox. While he hasn’t played a full season in his career yet, he has seen action in every year since 2008. At the time of the trade, his career ERA was roughly average, but the lack of home runs mixed with a good number of strikeouts gave him a FIP that was 1.6 runs lower.
His ERA looks good this season for the Rays (3.60), but it’s backed up by a much higher 4.84 FIP, due to an increase in walks (6.00 BB/9) and decrease in strikeouts (4.20 K/9). He has spent the entire 2011 season with the major league club.
Cesar Ramos, LHP (26 years old, 2 seasons)
17 games, 13.2 innings, 7.90 ERA, 2.87 FIP, 9.22 K/9, 2.63 BB/9, 0.66 HR/9, .469 BABIP
It’s not difficult to pinpoint why Ramos’ ERA was so high in 2009-2010. His 2009 season wasn’t that bad, but his 2010 numbers skewed just about everything. In just over 8 innings, he had a 11.88 ERA with a BABIP north of .500. This season, his BABIP is again a little absurd, but this time it’s in the opposite direction (.206). Like Russell, he’s spent the entire 2011 season on the Rays roster, and he’s been doing a solid job thus far.
Brandon Gomes, RHP (26 years old, 0 seasons)
(2011) 8 games, 8.2 innings, 3.12 ERA, 2.45 FIP, 8.31 K/9, 4.15 BB/9, 0.00 HR/9, .320 BABIP
Coming up through the minor leagues, Gomes struck out plenty of hitters while having a solid walk rate while using a low 90s fastball, a splitter, and a sweeping slider. This season has been a good start to his major league career, and so far he looks like he may be the best out of the three relievers the Rays got in exchange for Bartlett.
Cole Figueroa, 2B/SS (23 years old, 0 seasons)
Figueroa is only in Double-A right now, and that’s the highest he’s ever been in his minor league career. He looks like he’ll hit for a decent average without much power, but he does an excellent job in drawing walks. While I’m not an expert on prospects, it seems like Figueroa could be in the major leagues within a couple years.
Now we’ll take a look at the Twins’ trade.
Jim Hoey, RHP (27 years old, 2 seasons)
35 games, 34.1 innings, 8.13 ERA, 5.22 FIP, 6.29 K/9, 6.03 BB/9, 0.79 HR/9, .324 BABIP
Hoey’s two seasons prior to the trade were a while ago, in 2006 and 2007. While he was still throwing into the mid-90s back then, he wasn’t getting a ton of strikeouts, but was walking plenty of hitters. Fast forward to this season, and Hoey did improve a little bit on his control, but he suddenly starting allowing home runs left and right. 3 home runs later while pitching in high leverage roles was enough for the Twins to send him back to Triple-A Rochester. He has been pitching much better in this minors this season, so maybe he just needs to put it all together in the majors, or he may become yet another victim to the Quadruple-A label (can play well in the minors, but not in the majors, thus the “AAAA” tag).
Brett Jacobsen, RHP (24 years old, 0 seasons)
Jacobsen is fairly similar to Gomes in that he has had a good strikeout rate with solid control and some decent ERA totals. He also is in Double-A for the first time in his career, but there’s been some cause for concern now as his strikeouts have plummeted and his walks have increased significantly. Like Hoey, Jacobsen is a hard thrower, so it can be very easy for his walks to suddenly go up. Despite these peripherals, he still has a 2.78 ERA.
Neither Bartlett nor Hardy have been playing very well for their new teams this season. Therefore, it may be possible to call the Rays the winners of their trade so far, although Bartlett’s replacement, Reid Brignac, has been terrible so far. Hardy has been injured in addition to his offensive struggles, so we can’t really call the Orioles or the Twins the winner of their trade yet.
It’s frustrating, but not too surprising to see the players that the Rays got in return from the Padres. They have committed heavily to statistical analysis in recent years, and they were able to take away two relievers that had suffered some bad luck in the majors (Russell and Ramos), a solid major league-ready reliever in Gomes, and an infielder that could end up in the majors as well in Figueroa. Meanwhile, the Twins tried to spin their return as being a commitment to harder throwing pitchers, but the trade of Billy Bullock to Atlanta to keep Scott Diamond in the Twins organization appeared to debunk that claim. Instead, it looks as though the Twins were simply looking for a salary dump, and any talent given up by the Orioles would be an added bonus.
I hope the Twins look back at these trades and learn what worked for the Rays and what didn’t for the Twins, and apply those lessons in the future. Otherwise, I fear that we may be stuck watching a Twins team that will not contend in the AL Central for the rest of this season and likely into next year as well.