By now it has become common knowledge even among the most novice Milwaukee Brewer fan that JJ Hardy will be dealt this offseason. Alcides Escobar has been groomed to become the starter, and the job will be his from day one in 2010.
Hardy had an awful 2009, that saw him demoted in August to Triple-A. He spent enough time in the minors that his service time this year won't count towards his free agency eligibility, so whichever team trades for him will have his services for two years and not one.
The Brewers won't get the return for Hardy that they would like since he scuffled this year, but he is still young enough with plenty of past success to still get quality pitching returning to Milwaukee. It is quite likely that Hardy will be part of a package being shipped out of Milwaukee to net the best possible starter in return. Both Mat Gamel and Corey Hart have been brought up in possible trade talks.
Hardy won't turn 28 until August of next season, so he's just entering the typical prime of a player's career. He hit 50 combined home runs between the 2007 and 2008 seasons, showing great power for his position. While he doesn't have the range of the great shortstops in the game, his arm is as powerful as anyone's in the game.
While a trade to any major league team is a possibility, some teams make more sense than others. I'll take a look at every team to try and determine a few that may ultimately become Hardy's home in 2010.
Teams with little to no chance of trading for Hardy
All NL Central teams- The Brewers would be very hard pressed to trade Hardy to the Cubs, Cardinals, Reds, Astros, or Pirates. Teams generally do not trade in their own division. While not an impossibility, too many bad things could happen to the Brewers to risk trading Hardy to any of these teams.
Philadelphia Phillies- Jimmy Rollins may not be a great leadoff hitter, but he does so many things at the plate and in the field that would make Hardy useless in Philly.
Colorado Rockies- Two words: Troy Tulowitzki.
Tampa Bay Rays- The Rays have Jason Bartlett and Ben Zobrist, so they have no real need for Hardy.
Atlanta Braves- Yunel Escobar won't even reach arbitration status until 2011. Although he has been the subject of his own trade rumors, the Braves would be foolish to get rid of Escobar.
Arizona Diamondbacks- This is a situation very similar to the Braves. Stephen Drew has been the subject of many trade rumors, but he is still under team control for a few more years and isn't likely to go anywhere.
LA Angels- Erick Aybar has improved every year for the Halos and is under team control for a few more years.
Cleveland Indians- The Indians are in full rebuilding mode and wouldn't like part with the starting pitching the Brewers would ask for in return. Asdrubal Cabrera will likely be the team's shortstop for the next few years.
Texas Rangers- Elvis Andrus has the shortstp position locked up in Texas well into the next decade.
Chicago White Sox- You can never put anything past Kenny Williams, but with Alexei Ramirez as shortstop a deal is unlikely.
Teams with established shortstops that still could make a trade
Florida Marlins- Yes, I realize the Marlins have Hanley Ramirez. The team has made it known that Ramirez will one day move to first base as well. If they decide to make the move this winter, Hardy or a package could be had for any starter not named Josh Johnson.
New York Mets- Jose Reyes and his injury concerns are what make the Mets a player. If he can't come back completely healthy, Hardy would be a good back-up plan. The Mets and their fan base can't have a repeat of the 2009 season.
LA Dodgers- The Dodgers have Rafael Furcal, but he could move to second base next year if the team doesn't re-sign Orlando Hudson. A long-shot but not impossible.
Seattle Mariners- Jack Wilson is nothing special at shortstop. If his option isn't picked up, the Mariners could be a frontrunner for Hardy's services.
San Francisco Giants- Edgar Renteria was signed this past offseason, but he quickly fell out of favor. It would be hard for the Giants to just cut him and trade for Hardy but it could happen.
Washington Nationals- It would be surprising to see the Nats make a trade for Hardy but it would make sense. Cristian Guzman is the current shortstop but he could move to second base. A left side of the infield with Hardy and Ryan Zimmerman would stack up quite well against anyone in the league.
Teams that make the most sense to acquire Hardy
Oakland Athletics- The A's have good young pitching and a need for Hardy's glove and bat. A move to the West Coast would be welcomed for the Arizona native.
San Diego Padres- Everth Cabrera seemed to take control of the shortstop position, but acquiring Hardy would be a sign to the fan base that the team is working towards the future a bit quicker than originally thought.
Baltimore Orioles- The Orioles could make a lot of sense for a Hardy trade. Melvin Mora is likely to be gone, so the team will have a hole at third base as well. A Hardy and Mat Gamel package for Jeremy Guthrie would help both teams fill holes.
Toronto Blue Jays- Marco Scutaro should leave in free agency. Aaron Hill and Hardy up the middle would make Roy Halladay very happy...if he's still pitching in Toronto.
Detroit Tigers- The Tigers need to overhaul the left side of their infield. Hardy and Gamel would do wonders for the team. It's hard to think the Tigers would give up Rick Porcello, but maybe they would part with Edwin Jackson.
Minnesota Twins- The Twins will need to replace Orlando Cabrera and Joe Crede. Which one of the Twins pitchers would come back to Milwaukee? Nick Blackburn, Kevin Slowey, or Brian Duensing would all improve the Brewers' rotation.
The winner of the JJ Hardy sweepstakes
Boston Red Sox- The Red Sox are by far the team most often talked about when Hardy's name is mentioned. Despite what some Red Sox fans want you to believe, Jed Lowrie isn't a long-term solution at shortstop. Mike Lowell is under contract for one more year. Gamel could be groomed to be his replacement.
Clay Buchholz would be a good starting point for the Brewers return package. If the Red Sox would be willing to include Manny Delcarmen, Michael Bowden, or Daniel Bard in the deal as well, Doug Melvin would be a fool not to pull the trigger.
A trade of JJ Hardy will be unpopular with some fans, but those that want the best long-term for the team will cheer the day Hardy is no longer a Brewer.
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