A Log for the Hot Stove: Minnesota Twins Add J.J. Hardy

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A Log for the Hot Stove: Minnesota Twins Add J.J. Hardy
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

In both my 2009 postmortem and my 2010 offseason plan, I laid out two key points.

First, the Twins need to accurately deduce what things actually hurt them this year and address them. Second, that thing they needed to address was infield defense.

Congratulations to Bill Smith for absolutely nailing this one.

J.J. Hardy was the player I most wanted the Twins to add. He's a plus defender, historically a decent hitter, and being traded at the absolute bottom of his value. Seriously, at no point could the Twins have gotten him for less than they did now.

It shouldn't come as too much of a surprise that the Twins made an attempt to get Hardy, what surprises me is a) that they were able to do it before the Red Sox outbid them and b) they were able to acquire him without giving up pitching.

Speculation had Hardy's price set somewhere around the Kevin Slowey range, which turned out to be much more than the Brewers would receive.

My first inclination is that this was an outstanding deal. Upon reflection, I've tempered my opinion a little, but am still quite pleased with this move if only for this reason: Smith accurately gauged what the Twins needed and got the best player available who fits that need.

I see the deal pretty much in the Twins favor, but perhaps a little fairer than previously thought.

 

Received: J.J. Hardy

The 27-year old righty is one of the best defensive shortstops in major league baseball. Over the last three years he has posted the highest combined UZR at the position with a combination of excellent range and good decision-making leading to few errors.

That fact alone made this a smart addition for the Twins, but Hardy is no Adam Everett, he can swing the stick a little as well.

Hardy was an All-Star in 2007 when he hit .277/.323/.463 with 26 HR and 30 2B, but he was even better in 2008 when he hit .283/.343/.478 with 24 HR and 31 2B. If he had continued that production (3.1 and 5.9 wins, respectively), I promise you that no matter how good Alcides Escobar seemed to be, Hardy wouldn't have been moved for someone as enigmatic as Carlos Gomez, if he was moved at all. But 2009 was a down year, and by down I mean "demoted to AAA midseason" down.

Hardy will readily admit that 2009 was bad, and it was: .229/.302/.357 with 11 HR and 16 2B, a 3% increase in K-rate, and a decrease in Line Drive rate all contributed to a year that was extremely disappointing both for Hardy and for the Brewers.

Aside from the ups-and-downs that every player experiences, there is reason to believe that Hardy will rebound.

First, his BABIP (a good indicator of how lucky a hitter was) fell 42 points from an above average .306 to a well-below average .264. It should rise to or near his career rate of .280, which is about league average.

Second, his walk rate rose to a near career high meaning that while Hardy was hitting a lot less, he was still getting on base at a passable rate. If his BA recovers at all and he maintains this walk rate, his OBP will rise fairly quickly.

One thing that has remained constant is his power, his career ISO of .166 is well above what would get from any of the players currently on the roster at his position and isn't likely to be a mirage created by Miller Park.

Hardy hit a little better with home cooking, but not in such a way as to indicate that he'll suffer greatly from the switch. Add in that Miller Park was the fourth friendliest pitchers park and any worries there should be allayed.

If Hardy gets close to his 2007/2008 levels, the Twins will have stolen this deal. If he hits, as I suspect he will, something like .270/.320/.400 with around 20 HR and 20+ 2B while playing Gold Glove defense, that will still be a considerable upgrade over anything the Twins have had at that position in a long time.

Hardy may well be a long term answer, if the Twins are pleased with his 2010 contribution, a two or three year deal wouldn't surprise me one bit.

It's worth noting that he is due a raise during arbitration, but as John noted in the video, he isn't going to trot out his '09 numbers and expect to rake it in. You can't get something for nothing these days, so let's see what the Twins gave up.

 

Sent: Carlos Gomez

Well, Carlos Gomez's future potential, because the Brewers weren't buying his past or present. Gomez is an elite defender, that is an unassailable fact. He was more than a two win player this year based solely on his defense (literally, solely on his D, he was an offensive black hole), but for every moment he looked like he might have it together at the plate, there were three spent with head in hands.

He's the fastest player in the league but he got five bunt hits this year because defenses figured out that that was the only way he'd gotten on base in 2008.

He had nearly three times as many strikeouts as walks, and a net of seven steals (14 SB with 7 CS). For a player of his speed, that's downright awful.

What the Twins gave up and what the Brewers get may be two different things. Gomez did not look like he was getting better in the Twins organization and was well on the way toward getting the same reputation Delmon Young had for being difficult to coach, something that might change with a new coaching staff.

Gomez's OBP ought to rise if the Brewers bat him eighth, if for no other reason than he'll be batting ahead of some of the few hitters worse than he.

His opponents in the NL will almost certainly help to raise his OBP as well, though the pitchers he will face in the NL Central will be better than those he saw in the AL Central, so those factors may even out.

Gomez is an exciting player to watch, and from a fan's standpoint, I'm not thrilled that he won't be on the team any more. However, any type of logical analysis shows him to be a piece that needed to improve to be valuable.

The Twins traded him before another bad season depressed his value, and that appears to be a smart decision. He may well improve with the Brewers, but it's important to see that the Twins may not have ever had that player available to them.

Verdict:
Fortuna Fortibus Favet* and Bill Smith certainly is bold.

*Fortune Favors the Bold

Smith went out and got exactly what the Twins needed while giving up a player who is one or two seasons at his current production from being a major disappointment.

This isn't cut and dried for the Twins, there's a chance that Hardy had another down year, in which case this because a swap of defense and decent power for defense and underutilized speed, which is probably a coin flip.

Nevertheless, Hardy was probably the best player available at the position and Smith didn't give up a King's ransom to get him, so there's a lot to be said for that.

Aftermath:

Point Four of my offseason plan now fulfilled, the Twins have a chance to really focus on how they want to construct their team next season. In all likelihood, Hardy will bat second based on his preferences and Gardy's tendencies, meaning that the Twins lineup currently has its top two-thirds set.

Denard Span - CF
J.J. Hardy - SS
Joe Mauer - C
Justin Morneau - 1B
Michael Cuddyer - RF
Jason Kubel - DH
------------------
Delmon Young or LF Du Jour (Martin? Tosoni?)
Nick Punto, Joe Crede, Danny Valencia, or other 3B
Alexi Casilla, Nick Punto, or other 2B

This leaves a fair amount of questions, but ones to which the answers seem to be internal. If the Twins go out and get someone like a Felipe Lopez or Mark DeRosa (both are type-B free agents), that improves the team, but isn't as critical as it was this time last year.

I think adding one more position player wouldn't be a bad idea, but adding a filler player is permissible at this point as long as they can get on base at a decent clip. Hardy may well provide some power, but if his numbers stay down, he'll look like a healthier Joe Crede.

Any players added now should be bottom of the order hitters who can get the lineup flipped around to Span, Hardy, Mauer, the way Pedro Feliz and Carlos Ruiz did for the Phillies in the NLCS.

What this should do is free up the brass to work on the pitching staff. There are choices to be made there not only in terms of who they can add, but in terms of who they want to keep.

With Boof Bonser and Pat Neshek coming back from injury, the Twins have a very full staff, some of whom are probably more valuable as trade fodder than as pitchable arms.

SP - Scott Baker
SP - Kevin Slowey
SP - Nick Blackburn
SP - Brian Duensing
SP - Francisco Liriano

RP - Glen Perkins
RP - Jon Rauch
RP - Joe Nathan
RP - Matt Guerrier
RP - Jose Mijares
RP - Jesse Crain
RP - Pat Neshek
RP - Boof Bonser

It's a decent staff, largely because the Twins have jettisoned the less desirable pieces—Bobby Keppel, Sean Henn, R.A. Dickey—that made the bully so suspect for part of the year.

There are other arms to make decisions about, including Jeff Manship, Jason Jones, and Juan Morillo, but none of them present a huge upgrade over the guys already penciled in. All this is to say that this is where the Twins' focus should be going forward.

As I've noted previous, I'd really like to see Rich Harden brought in for reasons I'll defend soon enough, but Carl Pavano could likely be had for much less and would improve the staff by giving them five starters about which there aren't serious outstanding issues.

Liriano may not be so far gone as to be unretrieveable, and I think he could be valuable in the long run, but I'm not thrilled with the idea of having to count on on him to deliver a fifth of the Twins' starts for the year.

Whatever the Twins decide to do in terms of non-tendering, outright releasing, trading and signing, it seems like most of it will happen on the run prevention side of things.

Aside from the talent added, that's the biggest upside to this move—the Twins added Hardy early enough in the offseason that Smith can go into the winter meetings and beyond knowing exactly what holes he needs to fill and with a good idea of how much money he has to play with.

Ultimately, I like this deal a lot and I think it makes the Twins a substantially better team going into next season. Exactly how much better they'll be depends on what else the Twins' FO does and how well Hardy produces, but they are certainly off to a great start.

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