It’s rare for a team to deal a key member of the team in the middle of a season in which they hope to compete in the playoffs, but the Brewers are in a unique position.
With one of the best prospects in baseball, shortstop Alcides Escobar, knocking at the door, the Brewers could choose to deal J.J. Hardy for pitching.
It would be a calculated risk that would involve losing a veteran leader and potentially disrupting clubhouse camaraderie, but it might be in the best interest of the Brewers for this season and possibly beyond.
A team that talked to the Brewers was told that shortstop J.J. Hardy could be available “in the right deal.”
“In a right deal” is a pretty vague term, but one would have to assume a trade involving the Brewers receiving Toronto Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay would be the “right deal.” Halladay would give the Brewers the legitimate difference-maker in the rotation that they need.
There are many questions surrounding a possible deal involving Hardy, however.
Would Halladay be worth it?
He’s been one of the most consistent, injury-free starters in baseball for the last several years. He’s widely considered one of the best pitchers in baseball, and his stats should only improve with a move to the NL.
Could the Brewers afford to go with a rookie at shortstop in place of Hardy if they still want to compete this season?
That's hard to say.
Escobar might be ready for the jump to the majors right now, but he also might struggle.
By all accounts, he is a perennial Gold Glove talent at shortstop, so the defense should actually improve at least a little (since Hardy is no scrub defensively either). Offensively, Escobar does not have the power or experience Hardy has, so there would likely be a dropoff.
That said, Hardy is having a bad year at the plate. He’s hitting just .229 this season with only 11 home runs and an OBP under .300.
Meanwhile, Escobar, who was once considered a long-term project offensively, has made great strides with the bat in Triple-A. He’s hitting .295 with three home runs and a .349 on-base percentage for Nashville this season.
Those numbers likely wouldn’t translate to MLB at those levels, but one would think Escobar should at least be able to match Hardy’s offensive contributions to this point. He won’t hit as many home runs, but he has a lot more speed, as he has 33 stolen bases so far this season.
Also, with the recent acquisition of Felipe Lopez, he could shift over from second base to shortstop if Escobar were to struggle.
Why not trade Escobar instead of Hardy?
Hardy will be a free agent after next season, and as the young Brewers players become free agents over the next couple of years, the team will have to make some tough financial decisions.
With Escobar coming at a much lower cost and already on the cusp of the big leagues, Hardy is expendable. The Brewers will control Escobar more cheaply for more years, and he is the future at shortstop.
Trading Hardy would also make it a little bit easier for the Brewers to take on Halladay’s big contract, which is the rest of the $14.25 million he’s owed this year and all of the $15.75 million he’ll get next year.
How much more would it take?
The Blue Jays aren’t going to swap Halladay for Hardy alone—not even close.
They’ll want at least one top prospect and probably two additional high-ceiling types to fill out the deal.
I’d say Hardy, third baseman Mat Gamel, and two B-level prospects should be close to getting it done. That’s a proven MLB player, one of the top prospects in the Brewers' system, and two other high-ceiling prospects, with probably at least one and possibly both of them being pitchers.
The Brewers can afford to trade Gamel since they have some depth at third base both in the majors and the minors, and there is no guarantee Gamel will stick at the hot corner anyway. Milwaukee's system is thin on starting pitcher prospects in the high levels, but there are a number of intriguing pitching prospects in the lower levels.
While it would hurt to lose one or two of the quality young arms the Brewers are trying to build up, it would be worth it for a season and a half of a surefire ace like Halladay.
Will the Blue Jays even want Hardy?
Most reports say that the Blue Jays are interested in Escobar, which isn’t surprising, but the Brewers aren’t interested in moving him.
So, would the Blue Jays want Hardy?
That's hard to say.
Hardy has struggled this season so far, but he was an All-Star two years ago and had an All-Star-caliber season again last year.
Hardy has significant power for the shortstop position and is above average defensively. He’s still young, and you have to believe he’ll shake out of this slump at some point, especially since he’s a notoriously streaky hitter.
He has one more year of arbitration left after this season, so the Blue Jays would have him through the 2010 season. The Jays could hold onto Halladay through the 2010 season if they wanted, so with Halladay on the trading block right now, it’s unlikely they view 2010 as a season to go for it.
With that said, the organization needs a shortstop for the future, since Marco Scutaro is not a long-term answer.
They could view Hardy as the man.
While the Jays would have a hard time coming up with the coin to lock up Doc Halladay for the long term, they could likely sign Hardy to a multi-year deal if both sides were interested.
So, what if the Blue Jays don’t want Hardy?
I think Hardy remains the Brewers’ best trading chip, both in terms of what other teams value and what the Brewers can afford to give up. So if the Blue Jays aren’t interested in Hardy, the Brewers should shop him elsewhere.
Would the Red Sox swap Clay Buchholz for Hardy?
That deal would benefit both sides, as the Sox would upgrade a major team weakness without giving up a player on their MLB roster, and the Brewers would get a talented young starter that they’d control for the next several years. Buchholz has proven he’s ready for the bigs again and could have a strong second half in the majors.
A well-known Mariners fan blog suggested last week that a trade of starters Erik Bedard and Wisconsin native Jarrod Washburn, both free agents to be, for Hardy would make sense for both teams.
Would former Brewer head scout and current Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik actually consider this?
If so, that’s a great alternative for the Brewers. They’d get two quality starters and could collect some draft picks when the pitchers leave in free agency after the season.
Would the Indians be interested in taking Hardy as part of a Cliff Lee deal?
Asdrubal Cabrera is a pretty nice option at shortstop for the Indians, but he can also play second base, where the Indians don’t have a solid starter.
I wouldn’t give up Hardy for other options that are out there right now (Brad Penny, Doug Davis, Jon Garland, etc.), but who knows what else might happen before the trade deadline?
The Brewers should keep all options open.
The Bottom Line
Hardy is a fan favorite and a respected veteran in the clubhouse. Dealing him in the middle of the season would shake up the fanbase and the clubhouse, but if the team can get quality starting pitching for him in a deal, it might be the right move to set the team up for a big second half.