Why the Baltimore Orioles Would Be Smart to Trade J.J. Hardy
As the weather continues to surprise us and change from an overwhelming chilly afternoon to a beautiful spring day, the Baltimore Orioles’ winter is dwindling down and spring training is right around the corner.
With that being said, the Birds have added new faces to the mix, but no one has made a huge impact on the team yet.
However, shortstop and fan favorite J.J. Hardy could possibly be the next Oriole on the trading block over the next couple of weeks, and he has been the talk of the town recently.
It has been reported that a number of teams, including the Black and Orange, are interested in the Tigers’ young star Rick Porcello, and the Orioles could be part of a three-way trade that would involve both the Cubs and Tigers according to Roch Kubatko of MASNSports.com.
Detroit is interested in Hardy, and Baltimore is interested in acquiring pitching help—whether it is Porcello or prospects from Chicago.
This discussion has been ongoing for about a week now and nothing has come of it. Showalter has stated (via a Kubatko tweet) that the Orioles have to be “overwhelmed” (which is an understatement) in order to let Hardy go.
If they get the right pitching in return (Porcello plus a prospect at least), I think it would be a smart idea to think about trading the 30-year-old Hardy. But, it’s hard to say what type of deal the Birds are willing to accept at this point in the offseason. We’ll see how things play out over the next week or so.
Here are some of my pros and cons for trading the Birds shortstop.
1. Hardy Breaks out in 2011
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First, let’s start with the pros. The former Milwaukee Brewer, who spent the first five years of his career in the National League, broke out in his first year with the Orioles in 2011.
He posted career highs in home runs with 30 and slugging percentage at .491, and he tied his career best with 80 RBI. Not to mention, he only played in 129 games in ‘11, which averages out to be a home run every 4.3 games.
His previous high in home runs came back in 2007 when he crushed 26 and then the following year he repeated with 24 jacks, but he never reached the 30 home-run plateau.
The Orioles were not expecting 30 home runs out of their shortstop—maybe 25 at best. Hardy finished with at a .269 clip, and maybe they were hoping for a better batting average, but with that many home runs, he could afford to hit at a bit lower clip.
Regardless, Hardy recorded his best season, power-wise, over his seven seasons (to that point) in the major leagues.
Not to mention, in 620 total chances defensively, he committed only six miscues on the year, which gave him a .990 fielding percentage and another career high to that point.
The Orioles definitely got more than they were expecting and hoping for with Hardy. He helped to lift the Birds and became one of the most underrated shortstops in the league. Pitchers did not pay as much attention to him since he struggled with the Twins in his first year in the AL, and he jumped all over them; his second season with the Birds would prove to be different.
2. Great Defense/Leader on the Team
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I briefly touched on it in the previous section, but Hardy is one of the best shortstops in the majors defensively. In 2011, he recorded a .990 fielding percentage, and did not win the Gold Glove, although he came very close.
However, last season, he committed only six errors, but he played in almost 30 more games (158) and he finished with 779 chances—which is equivalent to a .992 fielding percentage. As many probably are aware, he was one of the three Oriole recipients of the Gold Glove award.
This was the first of his career, and probably not the last.
There is no doubt that he is one of the top defenders in the league and he proved that last season with his swift and flawless arm. Even when he was struggling at the dish, he was always ready to play in the field; he did not let anything distract him from defense.
Not only is he a great shortstop, but he is one of the leaders on this team, and he is always cheering on his teammates, no matter what the situation. Although he is only 30 years old, he has a good amount of experience playing in both leagues.
He has definitely helped the young Manny Machado, especially since one day the 20-year-old will be the Orioles' everyday shortstop (and it could be sooner than expected).
Not only has he impacted Machado, but he helps keep the team loose in the dugout between innings and while they’re at the plate. He seems like a great all-around teammate and the Birds would be missing a key member of their 2012 winning team if they were to lose him.
3. 2012 Struggles
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With that being said, Hardy struggled last season in all aspects of his game, except for his defense, which very much improved.
The Arizona native finished the season with 22 home runs, 68 RBI and batted just .238 in 158 games on the year. He played in 29 more contests last season than in his first year with the Birds, and he hit eight less home runs, drove in 12 fewer RBI and batted .031 points lower.
Maybe it was the pressure of coming off of his best season in the majors, and trying to repeat his success with his new team. Regardless, the Birds still performed well enough to make it to the playoffs and contend against the Yankees.
I think the most disappointing aspect of his offensive production last season was his batting average.
Showalter can live with 22 home runs and 68 RBI out of his shortstop. Of course, he would like Hardy to find his stroke again and go on a home-run barrage. But, like I mentioned before, they were expecting 25 home runs. However, after posting 30 in his first season, he set the bar high.
But, his batting average of .238 is something that needs to be improved and was one of the lowest on the team. He is a career-.259 hitter and there’s no question he has struggled with his average throughout his time in the majors.
In his heyday with the Brewers—'07 and '08—when he delivered 50 home runs over those two seasons, he posted a .283 and a .277 average, respectively. He has the ability to hit around .270, and I think that’s all the Orioles can ask out of him.
He actually finished the season with more hits than the year before (158 to 142), but he did play in almost 30 more games.
His slugging and OPS dropped significantly last season. His slugging percentage in 2011 was .491 and it fell over 100 points to just .389, the third-lowest in his career. His OPS decreased 130 points from .801 to .671, second-lowest in his career.
There’s no doubt he struggled at the dish last season, but he is only 30 years old and there’s no telling which Hardy the Birds will get this season, if he does not end up getting traded.
4. Manny Machado Is Ready to Take over
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One of the reasons why the Orioles might be less hesitant to let Hardy go is because they have one of the top shortstop prospects in the game right now, and he is already on the field!
He’s just in a different position.
Machado debuted last August and impacted the team right away. In his first week on the big stage, he hammered three home runs and drove in seven RBI on his way to being named the AL Player of the Week.
The Miami native, who will not turn 21 until the beginning of July, spent the rest of the season with the Birds. Although he struggled a bit at times, it was a great learning experience for him as he not only accumulated almost 200 major league at-bats, but he had a chance to play in the postseason at such a young age.
He became the second-youngest player to record a home run in the postseason after smashing one to right field against the Yankees in the Bronx (Andruw Jones was the youngest).
The current third baseman finished at a .262 batting clip, seven home runs and 27 RBI on the season through 51 games. He posted strong numbers at such a young age.
There’s no doubt he will be on the Orioles' Opening Day roster. The question will be whether he will be penciled in at third base or his more comfortable position, shortstop.
He has modeled his career after one of the most prolific and well-known shortstops in the game today—and ever, really—Alex Rodriguez, who is also a native of Miami.
Whichever position he plays next season, it will continue to be a learning experience for the young phenom, and defense is not the problem right now. He needs to be more comfortable at the plate and learn the pitchers, which will come over time.
If the Birds do lose Hardy, there’s no doubt they have a great, ambitious young star to take his place.
5. Options Galore at Third Base
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Well, if the Birds do end up getting a great pitcher or impressive prospects in a trade for Hardy, we know Machado will take over at shortstop, but what about third base?
Duquette and Co. have already thought that through and are way ahead of us.
So far this offseason, they’ve acquired a numbers of versatile infielders and have many options at third base if the need arises.
First choice would most likely be the 28-year-old Danny Valencia, who is a third baseman by trade. Although the Miami native struggled last season after splitting time with both the Twins and Red Sox, he put together a couple of impressive years with Minnesota to start his career.
Valencia debuted in 2010 and appeared in 85 games; he collected 93 hits, including seven home runs and 40 RBI while batting .311. In his second season, although his average dropped to .246, he jolted 15 home runs and drove in 72 RBI in 154 games.
Last year was just his third year in the majors, and he hit a combined .188 with three home runs and 21 RBI over 34 games. If Hardy is not traded, he will most likely be the Orioles' starting third baseman for the Triple-A Norfolk Tides.
However, if the Birds end up trading Hardy, he will be competing for the third base job with Yamaico Navarro, a former Pittsburgh Pirate.
Over his three-year career, Navarro has played with three different teams and is just a .191-career batter. He’s appeared in just 71 games since debuting in 2010, but is a very versatile position player.
He has played all over the infield (first base, second base, shortstop and third base), not to mention left field. Last season with the Pirates he made 25 starts at third base.
Navarro most likely will not be part of the Opening Day roster. However, there is always a chance, depending on spring training.
The 31-year-old switch-hitter is a nine-year veteran and has made a career out of traveling from team to team. He’s played on seven different teams and is another versatile player.
Last season, although he spent a large portion of the year on the disabled list, he managed to make it into 102 games for the Birds. He batted .261 with 12 home runs and 40 RBI. In 2006 with the Braves and Dodgers, he crushed 18 home runs and drove in 53 RBI in 143 games (all career highs).
Not to mention, the Birds acquired second baseman Alexi Casilla from the Twins. Although he is a second baseman by trade, with the possibility of Brian Roberts returning to the lineup, the 28-year-old Dominican has played 10 career games at third base and is versatile as well.
Don’t forget that Davis also came up to the majors as a third baseman and has played 70 games in his career at the hot corner.
There is no doubt the Orioles have an abundance of possibilities at third base if they need to move Machado to shortstop to fill the void left by Hardy. However, like I mentioned before, Showalter said the trade needs to more than overwhelm them if they are going to part with Hardy.
I do not see that happening over the course of the next couple of weeks. They have a strong bond with Hardy and the trade has to really blow their minds. I think it would be smart to deal Hardy, but only if they get strong pitching prospects in return. I can live with Machado spending another season at third base learning how to hit at the major league level with Hardy to his left.
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