When news leaked that the Detroit Tigers were involved in trade discussions with the Baltimore Orioles and the Chicago Cubs, debate soon turned to who would be the better fit at shortstop: Jhonny Peralta or J.J. Hardy.
While I have maintained that Peralta, 30, is a better shortstop than he gets credit for, I can see why the Tigers are interested in Hardy, 30, due to his great range and arm.
But how much better is Hardy, and would he be worth trading away starting pitcher Rick Porcello, 24?
Let's take a look at the differences between Hardy and Peralta.
Jhonny Peralta doesn't have the best range at shortstop and would arguably benefit from a move to third base. But he has very solid hands and fields the balls that he can get to very well.
In 2011, Peralta handled 608 total chances at shortstop and had only seven errors, for a .988 fielding percentage. He had the third-best fielding percentage in the majors and was tied for the third-lowest number of errors amongst shortstops.
Last season, Peralta handled 595 chances and once again had only seven errors for a great .988 fielding percentage. Peralta's numbers were good enough for the second-best fielding percentage in the majors to go along with the second-fewest errors among shortstops.
While Peralta had a good statistical season, he lacked range. That is where J.J. Hardy is exceptionally better than Peralta.
Hardy has amazing range and can get to ground balls deep in the hole. Hardy is very adept at turning the double play and, like Peralta, has great hands.
Hardy was always a very good defensive shortstop, but he has really taken it to the next level in his two seasons in Baltimore. As he matures, he has learned to position himself to better handle more ground balls.
Hardy played very well in 2011, with only six errors to go along with a .990 fielding percentage on 620 total chances. Hardy was second in fielding percentage for all shortstops and tied for fewest errors at six.
2012 turned out to be an exceptional year defensively for Hardy, and it ended with him receiving his first Gold Glove. Hardy was nearly flawless with an amazing .992 fielding percentage. While he still had six errors, he handled a whopping 779 chances. Hardy had the best fielding percentage among all shortstops and also had the fewest errors.
Hardy showed no sign of slowing down, so there should be no defensive letdown in 2013.
Advantage: Hardy by a large margin.
Batting is neither player's specialty; Peralta and Hardy are very similar in terms of production at the plate. They won't lead a team in batting average but may provide occasional power.
In eight seasons, Hardy has a career batting average of .259, averaging 16.6 HRs, 56.4 RBIs, and 72.4 strikeouts per year. This past season, Hardy had the worst batting average among shortstops at .238 and also experienced a career high of 106 strikeouts.
Peralta has averaged .264, 14.5 HRs, 64.3 RBIs, and 106 strikeouts in his 10-year career. Peralta has the ability to get hot with his bat but he can also go ice cold for long stretches over many games. Peralta is more likely to strike out but can hit for a higher average. While Hardy was the worst-hitting shortstop in 2012, Peralta was the second worst with a .239 average.
Hardy has been labeled injury-prone by fans, which I think is unfair since he's been more unlucky. None of his injuries are a concern going forward, but he's still only averaged 119 games per season over his career.
Hardy has battled back, oblique, knee, wrist and ankle injuries but has fully recovered each time. During the 2012 season, Hardy set a career high of 158 games played, and hopefully this trend will continue going forward.
Peralta is the more durable player. He's averaged 127 games per season over his career and has averaged 148 games per year since becoming an established major leaguer in his third season.
Peralta has never experienced an injury severe enough to keep him out of the lineup for a large part of the season.
Peralta gets along well with everyone in Detroit and has never had any locker-room problems. He has the added benefit of already being on the Tigers, so they don't need to give up any players to acquire him.
Hardy is close friends with Prince Fielder from their time together in Milwaukee, but he would be entering a new team. While the Tigers are a close group that makes everyone feel welcome, it may take some time to adjust to a new city. Hardy has never experienced postseason success, so he would be extra motivated: The Tigers would be the most talented team he's played on, and he may never get a chance this good to win a World Series.
Hardy is signed through the end of 2014, while Peralta is a free agent at the end of this upcoming season. The Tigers will feel comfortable knowing they have a quality shortstop under contract at a reasonable price and knowing that it will give them time to evaluate their shortstops in the minors.
To me, the biggest intangible is what the Tigers would need to give up in order to acquire Hardy. Rick Porcello is a young starting pitcher who is only 24 years old and is still developing. He needs to develop a reliable third pitch but could eventually be a mainstay in the starting rotation.
Advantage: Peralta (slightly).
Hardy could be headed to Detroit.
Hardy and Peralta are very similar players offensively. Peralta has been healthier than Hardy, but Hardy doesn't have any long-term health issues that would hinder him in 2013 or 2014.
The huge difference between Hardy and Peralta is their defense. On the surface their numbers are similar, but when you look deeper Hardy has far superior range.
I believe Hardy is much better in his positioning and can cover more ground. Hardy is also great at getting the ball out of his glove to start the double play.
It's no secret that the Tigers' defense is their weak spot. With a potent batting lineup now that Torii Hunter is joining the team and Victor Martinez is returning from injury this season, the Tigers could afford to give up some offense for a huge defensive upgrade.
If the Tigers truly believe Hardy is the key to a championship, then I hope they work out a trade with Baltimore. But trading Porcello could hurt the Tigers down the road.
Final advantage: Hardy by a slight margin.
Let me know whether you agree or disagree.