(Over)reactions to JJ Hardy Trade

If you aren’t one of those people who stay up in to the wee hours of the morning during MLB’s Winter Meetings, you may have awoken to the news that some time after midnight that the Twins and Orioles had agreed to a trade that sends JJ Hardy and Brendan Harris to Baltimore in return for two minor league relief pitchers, Brett Jacobson and Jim Hoey.

It appears that the two pitchers have good velocity and could contribute to the Twins sooner, rather than later and I’m sure we’ll get more details on the trade during the course of the day Thursday. Still, I’m a bit disappointed in the return obtained for a very solid Major League shortstop. Of course, eliminating both Hardy’s estimated $6-7 million salary and the $1.75 million owed to Harris in 2011 does free up payroll room to be used elsewhere.

But, while I hoped to either keep Hardy around or get more in return for him, I’m not sure what surprises me more… that the Twins would trade JJ Hardy for no more than they are getting in return from the Orioles or that Twins fans/bloggers are so universally up in arms over the trade.The large and diverse Twins blogging community, by and large, has trouble agreeing on anything. No matter what moves Bill Smith makes, some people will like it, some people won’t like it, and some people (you know who you are) will think it’s the dumbest move ever made by any MLB front office since the last move made by the Twins… because every move made by the Twins is, by definition, the worst move made by any team, ever.

But long before this trade was finalized, the blogs, podcasts and Tweets were lighting up with almost unanimous criticism of the deal. There was some acknowledgment that the limited return the Rays got for Jason Bartlett on Wednesday indicated that Twins fans should be prepared to see similar limited returns for Hardy, but that hasn’t kept the complaints from pouring through cyberspace in the first hour or so following the announcement. That’s pretty incredible, when you think about it. How bad must a deal be to get all of us to agree that it’s bad?!

Hardy

The assumption seems to be that the Twins simply needed to dump Hardy’s estimated salary to make room for Japanese infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka… that having scored too many runs last year, Gardy longed to return to the “piranha”  game that he enjoys managing. I’m on record of being skeptical about the prospect of turning over a middle infield position to Nishioka before he’s taken a single ground ball in Spring Training and dispensing Hardy to Camden Yards certainly is risky, to me.

That said, we’re talking about JJ Hardy here, not Joe Mauer or Justin Morneau. I get that he’s developed a certain loyal fan base (largely among the womenfolk, for some reason), but let’s keep in mind this is a guy who the Brewers demoted to the minor leagues just 18 months ago and traded for Carlos Gomez just over a year ago. (Gomez is now available on the trade market again, by the way.)

If we want to take an honest look at why the Twins moved Hardy just a year after trading for him, we should take a step back and recall why they traded for him in the first place. A year ago, the Twins were intent on adding offense, even if it meant sacrificing some defense. Jim Thome and Orlando Hudson were brought in for their bats. They traded away their best defensive outfielder for a shortstop that they hoped might hit a few home runs. And the Twins, at that point, couldn’t really know how their new home, Target Field, would play.

Now fast-forward a year and put yourself in the Twins post-season organizational meetings. You know, now, that your new shortstop essentially has warning track power in Target Field (like pretty much everyone else). He’s not fast. He’s not quick. He’s an above average defensive shortstop in much the same way Cal Ripken was an above average shortstop. He positions himself very well. He just seems to get to the ball very well.

With the general dearth of quality middle infielders on the open market this winter, now might have been the Twins’ best opportunity to get anything of value for Hardy. While it may be difficult to make that argument with a straight face, given the return received from the Orioles, what we don’t know today is what Hardy’s performance level will be in 2011.

In the grand scheme of things, however, the Twins’ fortunes in 2011 aren’t likely to be significantly determined by having Nishioka and Casilla in the middle of the infield instead of one of those two paired with Hardy. And if one of them gets hurt or underperforms, it’s not like the Twins don’t have a couple of hundred middle infielders in their system that could step in.

I’ve felt from the beginning that the key to the Twins improving their roster for 2011 is improving the top of their starting rotation. Other than the fact that devoting so much of their time to the Nishioka/Hardy issue has kept them from focusing their attention on improving their rotation, I just can’t get all that worked up over this trade. In fact, part of me feels like anything disliked so much by so many of us must have a pretty good shot at turning out well!

I like JJ Hardy and I even like the Orioles. I hope he does well there.

And I hope the Twins and their scouts are right about Nishioka, not to mention Jacobson and Hoey.

–  JC

P.S. It appears that I can pretty much forget all about my off-season “blueprint”. Not only is it virtually impossible that the Twins would be able to get my preferred “ace”, Zack Greinke, but now my suggestion for a flyer in the outfield is off the table as well. Melky Cabrera has reportedly agreed to terms with Greinke’s Royals. Ah well.

15 thoughts on “(Over)reactions to JJ Hardy Trade

  1. I’ve stayed out of the Tsuyoshi (SU-YO-SHEE is what we’ll be hoping to chant) discussion on other blogs so far, but I’ll weigh in here.
    JC, respect your comments more than most across the Twins blogs, and enjoy the long posts that you bring here (as my comment may be too long). Some real Hot-Stove talk.
    It’s hard to claim my part of Twins Territory, as the last game I’ve seen them play in person (and not in Ft. Myers) was a game back in October ’91. Some Jack pitched pretty well! Anyway, back to (hopefully) the Twins new infielder. As a season ticket holder for the Rakuten Golden Eagles (Iwakuma’s team, and yes we’ll be welcoming him back with open arms), and just as a baseball fan, I can relate that Nishioka was one of those opposing players you always hate to see come to bat when it mattered. He gets it done.
    Whether he is more suited to SS or 2B, probably comes down more to how it fits with Alexi, who has always been noted as stronger at short. I don’t worry as much as some about Nishioka’s arm. The bases are the same distance apart, and the runners the same speed; and he’s been getting it done here in Japan.

  2. NDiJ, thank you for your comments and welcome! It’s great to hear directly from someone who’s seen Tsuyoshi play ball first hand. If you’ve been reading my posts about him, you know I’m skeptical. (It’s nothing personal… I’m a skeptical person by nature!) While I’m curious how his defensive skills will transition due to the fact he won’t be playing on artificial surfaces (a ground ball will take longer to get to him, giving him less time to make the throw), I’m actually less concerned about that than I am whether he’ll be able to hit MLB pitching at a level remotely close to what he did in Japan. I’m actually encouraged, however, that the Twins aren’t bringing him in as a power hitter because Japanese hitters have shown dramatically less power in MLB than they showed in Japan. I really hope you’re right! I’m looking forward to getting a first hand look at him in Spring Training.

  3. I go to bed a bit early last night, and there is some actual news! gah!

    since the pitchers we got in return seem to have some life on their fastball (I saw where one guy throws 95 mph) I can assume that Jesse Crain is no longer going to be a Twin

    nice post you got here JC

  4. The “internets” over-reacting to something? Unheard of!
    Doesn’t happen. Never has…never will.

    Next thing you know somebody will be suggesting there is porn on the internet.

    ;)

  5. James, I think the only way Jesse would have been returning anyway was if he kept holding out for a Benoit-like contract and found himself without a place to play 6 weeks from now. If that still does happen (unlikely, since I think he’ll come to his senses before that), I’m sure the Twins would welcome him back for the right price. There’s no such thing as too many 95 mph fastballs in your bullpen. Guerrier, while still unlikely, probably has a better chance of returning eventually.

    jamar, is that sarcasm I detect coming from you? Couldn’t be. Doesn’t happen. Never has… never will. ;)

    As for the last part… I wouldn’t know. That’s my story and I’m sticking (no pun intended) to it.

  6. *sigh* I knew it was going to happen so I was somewhat prepared but still.. I’m crying over here. I have liked JJ Hardy since long before he was on my team and I will like him on someone else’s team too. I would rather have kept him because I really do like the veteran BRAIN in the MI and I knew it wasn’t going to be Hudson. (And Lexi’s seems to timeout if there is too much time between pitches).

    NDTFiJ – not only is it good to have a commenter here who has seen first hand what we are all wanting to see, I’m sure that JC very much appreciates someone who likes his long posts! ;)

    In all seriousness, I would love to see what he can do and hope they are able to get a deal done – however, I think more than anything that requires the Twins to do some reorganizing in the middle. If it depends on Casilla to manage our MI, he’ll be traded before the end of the year and we’ll be getting someone else at great expense.

  7. Babs, while I do appreciate his appreciation for my long posts and it may motivate me to ignore my own self-imposed 2,000 word limit and venture in to Joe Posnanski Territory, my first instinct was to actually attack our new commenter from Japan.

    He (I know, I’m being sexist and assuming “he” even though there was no indication of gender at all in the comment. I’m sexist. There’s another news flash for jamar to be shocked about!) hasn’t been to a Twins game that counts since Morris’ win in the ’91 World Series and the Twins haven’t been to the WS since! Coincidence??? I think not!

    By the way, in other shocking news, A) the Red Sox turned out to be the mystery team that offered Cliff Lee 7 years, B) the Red Sox signed lefty hitter Carl Crawford to a 7 year contract, and C) now the Yankees have decided that, yes, they will also go 7 years for Cliff Lee.

    So, it’s true what our Geometry teachers told us… A+B does = C.

  8. So we should spend our offseason getting NoDak some season tickets and figure out how to turn James’ sleeping habits into some kickass trades. Got it. :D

  9. I still maintain my personal bias against contracts for that long… 7 years????? Seriously? It’s not really advisable (to me) even in young guys but at least it’s defensible. But Lee & Crawford???? *shakes head* Honestly it just goes to show that we really have reached the state of utter ridiculousness.

  10. I completely agree, Babs. At the same time, a lot of Twins fans were pretty excited about Smith locking up #7 for even longer last year. I have to say, though, that with Werth and Crawford getting these deals, it’s making Mauer’s contract look pretty reasonable. Even given his less impressive stat line in 2010, can you imagine what the Werth and Crawford deals would be doing to Mauer’s value on the open market right now if the Twins hadn’t locked him up?

    We’re probably going to have enough material on this to dedicate a whole post to at some point, but I’m wondering if Smith and the Twins really thought through what they were getting themselves in to with Nishioka. I’m not even talking about his performance at this point. But we’ve seen notes from the beat writers about how several Japanese writers will be assigned to the Twins all season and now how Smith is getting agitated being hounded a bit by the Japanese contingent in Florida. Can you imagine how much fun Gardy is going to have dealing with the extra media attention, especially during those times when things aren’t going well?

    Gardy and Smith have had it pretty easy with the local beat writers. They don’t have to put up with the media issues that managers/GMs do in major markets. But it sure sounds like they’re bringing in a Japanese rock star and they’re going to get all of the circus-like sideshow issues that go along with doing so. I can’t wait to hear Gardy’s response the first time one of the Japanese writers asks, “Why isn’t Tsuyoshi being allowed to wear #7?”… never mind his response the tenth time he gets asked the same question. An exaggeration? Yes… but the point is, Gardy isn’t exactly well known for his patience with the little bit of local media he has had to deal with in the past. He ain’t seen nuthin yet.

    I sure hope Tsuyoshi is worth the inevitable heartburn that his arrival is going to cause at all levels of the organization.

  11. Thanks for not attacking me JC.
    Maybe I’m biased and excited, by the fact that if Tsuyoshi is signed, I’ll get to see quite a bit more Twins baseball on a screen bigger than my notebook.
    I’ve not been to a game in Mpls since ’91, not for any lack of interest, or support. Travelled from Boston for Game 1&2 in ’87; did the same in ’91; and was on my first flight, moving to Japan the following morning. Was there through the rest of the 90’s, but was spared somewhat by the fact that MLB.com didn’t exist yet.
    Know, that I am trying to get back to Ft Myers in the Spring, where the parents have resettled; so maybe I can provide those interpretation services you were considering.
    More importantly, I am trying to get to Target Field this year.
    Last year just couldn’t make it happen. I know it is the wrong place to post that I did manage to catch the BitchSox and Tiggers at US Cellular (the 15-3 rout that started the run that FAILED!). Sorry all, I was in Chicago. What was I suppose to do, not go to a baseball game?!? Not take my wife to her first baseball game in the States!

  12. I can certainly understand the excitement over the prospect of getting to see more Twins games on TV over there. That said, it just makes me angrier that I’m in Iowa, 4 hours from the Twin Cities, and I CAN’T get the Twins on TV. Grrrrrrrrrrr. Sore subject.

    Keep in touch, though… I’m still tentatively planning on making my annual trip to Ft. Myers for a week or so of Sping Training, as well. I may take you up on the “interpreter” offer!

    And you really do need to find a way to get to a game at Target Field… it puts US Bitchular Field to shame. Plus, you’d be doing the right thing and breaking that 20 year old World Series jinx that you’re obviously responsible for! :)

  13. JC, with regard to your earlier comment about how the Werth and Crawford contracts would impact Mauer’s value – you have to think, with Mauer being significantly younger than Werth, and having as much star status as any player in the game, we’d be looking at the upper 20s and 7-8 years. Down stat line or not, there’s a very short list of catchers with his offensive abilities (in fact, I think he is the only true catcher on the list). Sure, it’s a long contract with a lot of money, but he’d be getting even more money had he waited for free agency.

  14. AW, I completely agree and you may be underestimating what Mauer would command. I don’t want to delve in to this too deeply because I’ve got a post on the subject percolating in my head (then again, only a small percentage of such mental percolations find their way in to blog posts) on the subject, but if you want to get a sense for what Mauer might have been commanding on the open market, the Werth/Crawford deals just scratch the surface. There are two other negotiations that will shed greater light.

    First, St. Louis has a 1B that is one year from hitting the market and reports are that his agent is looking for A-Rod money (10yr/$275M)… from St Louis… in an extension… a year before hitting free agency. Sure, Albert is a much more dominant offensive force than Joe is, but he also does not play a premium defensive position. Also, keep an eye on Russell Martin. Reports are that the Yankees and Red Sox are currently going toe-to-toe for Russell Friggin Martin. He was non-tendered by the Dodgers and is coming back from a broken hip (but don’t worry because it’s not like catchers have to routinely do anything involving the hip joint, right?).

    While neither team is looking toward Martin as a full time catcher, it will still be interesting to see how much money those two teams are willing to spend, bidding against one another for a 27 year old catcher who, as I write this, can’t even run yet. Then imagine what they’d be bidding for Joe Mauer, instead.

  15. Thanks for the reply. My first thought was actually to write that Mauer could receive $30 million a year for the 8 years, just as a round estimate. Then it seemed a little high in my head. But looking ahead to Pujols, who my well approach that figure, I think it’s clear that the sky would have been the limit.
    Then you get to the question: is the money better spent on a pitcher that throws every 5 days (Cliff Lee, for example, who we know is going to end up with $25 million for 7 years from someone), or an everyday player. But that’s a question for another day.
    I’m still happy with the Mauer contract, even if that puts me in the minority.