Monday, October 25, 2010
Why Bringing Back JJ Hardy Should be Priority #1
If you read the Twins blogs, which you must if you found this one, you know the whirlwind of speculation and opinion that is going on regarding what the Twins should do with their free-agents and arbitration-eligibles this off-season. The Twins should re-sign Pavano, no they should let him go, they should non-tender Matt Capps, they need to bring back Jesse Crain, and on and on and on. I'm here to make a case that bringing back JJ Hardy is THE MOST IMPORTANT move the Twins can make this off-season, specifically because of the domino effect that will happen if they do not.
JJ Hardy didn't have a great season, that is well documented. But when you look at his season, both offensively and defensively, in terms of other short-stops in the Majors, a different picture emerges. For instance, if you extrapolated the numbers Hardy put together to a full-season (qualified) of work, his OPS (.714) makes him a top 10 short-stop in terms of offense and his Fielding% (.976) makes him a top 7 short-stop defensively. His UZR score of 8.1 is good for 5th among short-stops with 800+ innings, and his UZR150 of 12.8 would be 1st among short-stops with 800+ innings. I know there are some sample size issues here, but what I'm trying to point out is that even though Hardy didn't have an eye-popping season offensively, his value in terms trying to replace him is very high.
I mentioned earlier "the domino effect" that would occur if the Twins let him go. First off, Alexi Casilla, who would like become an everyday 2nd basemen if Hardy stays, would likely move to Short, leaving a hole a 2nd. Now, Gardenhire could probably push his weight around and get his pet-project Nick Punto re-signed, but the Twins would pay $5M to do that and the Twins lineup would suffer as a result. Hardy is in line to get about $6.5M via arbitration, so why not let Punto walk, pay an extra $1.5M or so and have less problems? Ok, getting back on track...so now you have a hole at 2nd, what are your options on the free-agent market? There are a number of 2nd basemen out there, but in order to make this cost-effective (i.e. less than the cost of picking up Punto's option) the price has to be less than $5M and you would want someone relatively young. So, here is a list of free-agent 2nd basemen that fit those criteria:
Willie Bloomquist (33) - made $1.7M last year
Anderson Hernandez (28) - not a good option, but an option nonetheless
Omar Infante (29) - has a $2.5M club option and the Braves would be stupid not to pick it up
Akinori Iwamura (32) - made $4.85M last year, had a few good season with Tampa, but was terrible last year
Felipe Lopez (31) - Type B free-agent and actually not a bad option, made $1M last year, .960 career Fielding% at short-stop, could be had for cheap
Juan Uribe (31) - Uribe is one of the better options out there as far as 2nd basemen go and thus likely to command attention, he had a good season offensively and has been a star in the post-season, signing him probably wouldn't be very cost-effective for the Twins
And that's about it. You can see how bare the 2nd basemen market is and how difficult to fill a hole at 2nd would be.
Some people out there might say, "what about Trevor Plouffe?" (Triple-A short-stop for the Twins) To that I say, "see here." That link takes you to Plouffe's minor league stat page and though offensively it looks decent for a short-stop, defensively I am left wanting (.947 fielding%). One of the strengths of the Twins this season was infield defense and though it wasn't quite as good as expected, that defense saved runs which led to wins, blah, blah, blah. If the Twins have Casilla at 2nd and Hardy at SS, that defense continues to look good, if they get rid of Hardy and replace him with Plouffe (moving Casilla to 2nd) that defense takes a hit....domino effect.
Letting Hardy go and finding a way to cheaply fill the hole left behind would free up some more money to re-sign some of the bullpen, but as Rauch proved this past season, bullpen pieces are pretty easy to find and the Twins have some arms in the minors that could be tapped to replace the likes of Fuentes, Rauch, etc. Keep in mind too that unlike the 2nd basemen and SS market, the relief pitching market is chock-full of talent and because of that, prices will probably be driven lower.
Yes, re-upping with Hardy eats up a large portion of the off-season money the Twins have to spend, but as I've tried to lay out here, Hardy is the most important one to re-sign given his positional significance coupled with the potential difficulties of replacing him.