Hard(y) Decisions

20 Oct

also available at www.SethSpeaks.net -

As has been mentioned frequently already, and will continue to be mentioned, the Twins 2010/2011 offseason will be a very interesting one for many reasons. Eleven Free Agents. Nine Arbitration-eligibles. Questions about how to beat the Yankees. It will be very interesting.

What will the payroll be? Last year, it jumped from $67 million to about $100 million. In 2011, will it stay the same? Will it jump up to $110 million? That difference, $10 million, is the amount that Joe Mauer’s contract increases from 2010 to 2011. Could it jump up to $120 or even $125 million? We don’t know. But the reality is that the Twins still have to make a lot of decisions on payroll based on revenues and even with the new stadium, the resources are not unlimited. So several really tough decisions do have to be made.

We may not know officially, but we can pretty much assume that Orlando Hudson will be gone, replaced by Alexi Casilla, or someone who will make less than $1 million in 2011. But what about the shortstop position?

When the Twins acquired JJ Hardy from the Milwaukee Brewers shortly after the 2009 World Series in exchange for Carlos Gomez, the assumption was that he would be a huge improvement over Twins shortstops of the last decade, and maybe since Greg Gagne patrolled the position in the second half of the ‘80s and first years of the ‘90s. We also assumed that the decision to offer him a fourth year of arbitration would be a no-brainer.

However, Hardy made that a more difficult decision than I think any of us would have wanted. Defensively, Hardy was inconsistent. There was an extended stretch where he was unable to consistently throw the ball all the way to 1B in the air. But for the most part, he is a very solid shortstop with slightly above average range. Among shortstops with more than 800 innings played in 2010, he was the fifth best with a UZR of 8.1. He was the best in baseball with a 12.8 UZR/150. To put that into perspective, Brendan Ryan of the Cardinals was second best in that category at 12.1. On the other end of the spectrum the Rays Jason Bartlett was the worst at -13.5. Offensively, Hardy was also very inconsistent. At times, he did show some pop. At other times, he was tough to watch. At season’s end, he hit .268/.302/.357 with an OPS+ of 93. He primarily hit ninth in the Twins lineup, so you don’t expect world beater. His batting average and on-base percentage were similar to his career numbers while his slugging percentage was well below his career numbers. How much of that can be blamed on Target Field?

How much of that can be blamed on the bum wrist that hurt him most of the season? As noted, Hardy played in just 101 games in 2010. A year earlier, in Milwaukee, he played 115 games.

Now, no one in their right mind would claim that the Twins missed Carlos Gomez and would un-do the trade, but I think many of us (fair or not) hoped that Hardy would take a step forward in 2010.

So, what does this mean for 2011? Just shy of six years of MLB service time, Hardy is eligible for a fourth arbitration year. He made $5.1 million in 2010. He would be in line for a raise. But how much? Would he be happy to sign for $6 million, or will he expect more like $7 million or more? The answer to those questions could determine whether the Twins tender him an offer, or let him become a free agent. If he becomes a free agent, he would be one of the top free agent shortstops on the market and at just 28 years old, he could get a three year, $21 million contract, maybe more depending upon the team. The Twins could offer him arbitration, and then look to trade him.

Trevor Plouffe debuted in 2010 with the Twins. He showed signs in 2010, at the end of 23, that he was making strides in AAA Rochester. In 102 games, he hit .244/.300/.430 with 22 doubles, four triples and 15 home runs. The batting average really dropped later in the season once he moved back and forth between the Red Wings and the Twins several times. In 22 games with the Twins (several were just pinch running for Jim Thome late in games), he got 41 at bats. He hit just .146/.143/.317. Of his six hits, one was a double and two were home runs. One was an opposite field blast that showed his power. I can’t make much of his Major League numbers. First, they are the first of his career. Second, his playing time in the big leagues was so sporadic. He had some real struggles, and a long hitless streak, but he was getting two at bats a week at times. I believe that, given every day playing time (and getting the manager to believe in him, he could hit .250/.300/.400 in the big leagues in 2011. If you go to minorleaguesplits.com and enter his 2010 Rochester numbers into their Major League Equivalency database, it says that Plouffe’s numbers would translate to .211/.259/.360 with 19 doubles and 12 home runs in the big leagues. I believe that playing for a pennant-contending team and hitting at the bottom of the Twins order, he could hit better than that. Defensively, Plouffe is a solid shortstop. Certainly he is not elite, and some are frustrated with his inability to consistently make the routine plays. That certainly would be a concern. Again, I think the focus that Plouffe would display would help him over the course of a season.

The numbers I am outlining for Plouffe are nothing more than guesses, but semi-educated guesses. The projections put him with an OPS between .620 and .700. In 2010, JJ Hardy’s OPS was .714. How much better do you expect offensively from Hardy? What is Plouffe’s upside? Where do you think those numbers would end up, compared to each other in 2010?

And, how much is that difference worth in terms of dollars? I mean, if you can get a .720 OPS from Hardy for $6 million or a .700 OPS from Plouffe for $420,000, which would you do? What if Hardy would make $7.5 million instead of $6 million? And, if you don’t believe in Trevor Plouffe, what if the Twins acquired someone like Ivan DeJesus, Jr. from the Dodgers in the offseason? Or what if they brought back Nick Punto at $1.25 million for 2011 and got a .680 OPS and very strong defense?

How much is JJ Hardy worth? This isn’t about being cheap and going with the cheaper player. This is about getting the most of the money. And if they’re able to pay a SS $420,000 instead of $7 million, that’s $6.5 million that can be used elsewhere. Maybe on someone like Zack Greinke.

What do you think? It is a Hard(y) decision. I would guess that Hardy will be back as the Twins shortstop in 2011, but I would also guess that a discussion built around this topic will be had by the Twins brass when they have their post-season meetings in Ft. Myers.  What would you do? First, feel free to Discuss and Comment here. Then be sure to go to TwinsCentric.com and purchase your copy of the TwinsCentric Offseason GM Handbook.

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19 Responses to “Hard(y) Decisions”

  1. roger October 20, 2010 at 7:06 am #

    This is a tough one Seth, but I believe he will be back. 1) The Twins may feel that if he can remain healthy, his numbers will be better than 2010; and 2) With Hudson almost certainly gone, they likely will not want to have new/young players at both middle infield positions. So I see Hardy back at shortstop with Casilla/Tolbert battling for the starting job at second…likely going to Casilla. Tolbert then becomes their super utility guy for second, short and third with Plouffe back to Rochester and available when Hardy gets injured.

  2. mike wants wins October 20, 2010 at 8:53 am #

    Too much money for a guy that can’t stay healthy. IF you thought he’d put up an OPS+ in the 95-100 range, and play 140 games, he MIGHT, MAYBE be worth that much money. The guy is not a game changer. I’m not convinced Punto/Plouffe for a total of $3MM is any worse, and it’s a lot less money.

    Delmon Young will get a real raise. They’ll overspend on the bullpen again. Mauer gets his ginormous raise next year. They can’t pay a mediocre SS millions of dollars.

    I’d much rather they let Hardy go, trade Kubel, and find a guy that can play CF or 1B/DH (with power).

    They also need to trade from their average pitching depth to get a very good pitcher in return. The Rangers are showing just how average the Twins really are right now.

  3. SteveH October 20, 2010 at 9:14 am #

    To answer this question, you have to look at 2B too. If the decision at 2B is to go with Casilla or Tolbert, they will keep the veteran presence of Hardy there. When healthy, he was a great option in the field and other than that one shaky stretch, he was solid in the field, probably better than we’ve seen in 10 years. His offense improved steadily during the last four months. On May 31, he was .276/.357/.633 but finished at .320/.394/.714. That tells me that he made some good adjustment to AL pitching after an early adjustment period. The other thing about keeping Hardy is that then they could throw Plouffe into a battle for a job at 2B and move him to SS if Hardy is injured. However, if the Twins keep Hudson, I would say Hardy is gone. I just don’t see the Twins going with Plouffe and Casilla/Tolbert at 2B. This team is too close for that many question marks in the middle infield.

  4. Craig in MN October 20, 2010 at 9:28 am #

    How about a “battle of former Brewer infielders”. Would you rather sign Hardy for $7 million, and fill 2nd base internally, or sign Bill Hall as a free agent for maybe $3 million (or who knows, really, but less than what Hardy would make) and fill shortstop internally?

    They played about the same amount the past two years year, with similar cumulative batting stats. Previous to that, they were both even better hitters. Hall is coming off of a better year, but is older, and plays mostly second instead of short. Hall can, though, backup CF (and 3B & corner OF) allowing them to carry one less position player. He gives them the roster flexibility to go after Thome or another one dimension slugger.

    There isn’t much of a free agent class for shortstops this year. If the Twins could find someone who wanted Hardy, I’d trade him and go after Hall. They might not get much in return, but I bet there’s a team somewhere that would be interested.

  5. Ian October 20, 2010 at 9:36 am #

    I don’t think it’s a problem. The Twins will keep Hardy. His defense was very good and, when he came back from the wrist injury, his bat was fine. His track record suggests a better player than he was last year. No way the Twins just let him go when they could bring him back on a safe one year deal, esp after trading Gomez for him.

  6. TB October 20, 2010 at 9:56 am #

    Greinke? Really? Good grief.

  7. J. Lichty October 20, 2010 at 10:29 am #

    I dont see any way that Hardy won’t be back.

    Regardless, I would be very surprised that a Hardy healthy in a walk year will not provide more production than he did last season, so I am not broken up about it.

  8. mike wants wins October 20, 2010 at 10:30 am #

    Those of you that want to keep him, are you assuming they keep Capps and any other multi-million reliever, while giving Mauer a huge raise, Young a raise? Where does the money come from to keep Hardy?

  9. Mrs. Gomez October 20, 2010 at 10:53 am #

    I miss Carlos.

  10. gobbledy October 20, 2010 at 11:10 am #

    i hear a lot of this guy is just about as good but cheaper. when you add all those just abouts at a couple positions and several pitchers you suddenly have a team with a lot less talent. three and out again with what we had and making the team weaker at several spots doesn’t make me think we will turn the corner next yr. the team has plenty of money lets try and win something, like a playoff series, while the core of this team is still here.

  11. steve October 20, 2010 at 12:20 pm #

    Nick puntos career ops is 644 not 680. He plays average defense thats inferior to hardy’s, and hes in his mid 30. Hardy is very underrated and punto/ploufee are terrible replacement options.

  12. mike wants wins October 20, 2010 at 12:34 pm #

    gobbledy, I’m all with you, but I don’t think the Twins are….no way this payroll jumps to $125MM+, no way.

  13. SoCalTwinsfan October 20, 2010 at 12:35 pm #

    When Hardy came back from the DL the second time, he hit .305/.356/.436 over the last three months of the season. I also remember hearing how Vavra was working with his swing, which had gotten messed up the previous season when he got sent to the minors. When working on a swing, the power tends to be the last thing to come, so I would expect him to add more power, in the 15-20 HR range. His defense was very good considering the wrist injury, which is most likely the cause of his throwing problems. I believe it was his right wrist, correct?

  14. Dave October 20, 2010 at 5:40 pm #

    There are a lot of borderline players, on the one hand, and only so many dollars, on the other hand. Without rehashing the insanity of paying Pujols dollars for a guy who is constantly hurt, the upshot is they have to jettison marginal-to-decent players. Hudson,Guerrier, Punto,and [if they can’t trade Cuddyer] Kubel. I like Hardy a lot, but he is getting older and more fragile. Can’t afford him.

  15. USAFChief October 20, 2010 at 7:00 pm #

    Hardy is a good shortstop. None of the other candidates are. This is a simple choice. What’s the goal here…be a better version of the KC Royals, or be a legit WS contender? Hardy should stay.

  16. mbrian October 20, 2010 at 8:42 pm #

    I think Hardy will definitely be back. Valencia is likely to take a step back at third. You don’t really know what to expect out of Casilla at second, and we aren’t certain Morneau will be back to his old self at first. Hardy is the only established infielder on the team right now, and he’s good.

  17. rover27 October 20, 2010 at 11:14 pm #

    Any stat that has Jason Bartlett as the least rangy SS in MLB is crap. I watched him with the Twins and in the post-season in 2008 and 2010. He make Hardy look like a statue.

    Why do you think the Rays traded for him? And why do you think he was voted the Rays MVP in 2008?

    Total bull. And a bookend to the worst trade in Twins history. Batlett has an OPS+ of 102 since the trade, Young 105. And then throw in Garza for Harris. Good job, Buffet Billy.

    • PinkiePinkerton October 21, 2010 at 5:14 pm #

      @rover27 – UZR is not just range. It is a component of Arm and Glove as well. Hardy and Bartlett may have similar range (Bartlett is what, 4 years older than Hardy?) but Hardy clearly has a better glove (this is why the Twins traded Bartlett away) and an arm that plays at 3B. Add up those three components and Hardy has been a vastly superior SS, much as he has been the past 4 seasons.

      For people thinking Hardy is fragile, I believe this was the first season of his career that he hit the DL. He is also not getting old, being only 28. He provided league average SS offense and Gold Glove caliber defense at a position where defense is heavily weighted. In fact, Hardy is in the top three in baseball if you UZR/150 over the past four seasons. That we are even having this discussion about resigning him amazes me.

  18. itch October 24, 2010 at 12:49 pm #

    Thank you, Pinkie. Well said.

    I personally am looking forward to never seeing Punto in a Twins uniform again.

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