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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.