Yesterday, in an effort to shake things up with their big league roster, the Brewers designated Bill Hall for assignment, fired their pitching coach, and shipped starting shortstop JJ Hardy to Triple-A. The first two are easily justifiable. The last one is not.
Hardy is certainly not having a season that lives up to his expectations. His .229 batting average is 30 points lower than his career average, and his power is off as well. The .294 wOBA he has at the moment is the worst of his five year career. It hasn’t been a good season for Hardy in any way, shape, or form.
However, he’s still one of the five or six best shortstops on the planet. His defense is as good as ever (+8.7 UZR) as he continues to be one of the top glove-men at the position in the game. Overall, in a miserable season for Hardy, he’s still been worth +1.5 wins in about 70% of a season. As bad as he’s been compared to his previous levels, he’s been a league average player overall this year.
So why did the Brewers send him down? Yes, Alcides Escobar is a nifty prospect and they understandably wanted to get a look at him, but September call-ups are a couple of weeks away, so it’s hard to imagine Milwaukee would have done this to Hardy to get an extra two weeks look at Escobar in the big leagues. But, there is another explanation, even though Doug Melvin denies it was a factor.
Service time. If Hardy would have remained in the majors through the end of the year, he’d have had five full seasons of service time, gotten a raise in arbitration, and been eligible for free agency after 2010. If he stays in the minors for three weeks, he will fall just short of a full year of service in 2009, which would make him a 4+ year arbitration guy again this winter and delay his free agency until after the 2011 season.
The Brewers are going to trade Hardy this winter – that is basically inevitable. He’ll have significantly more value as a trade chip if the acquiring team gets him for two years instead of one. Would the Brewers really make a move like this in order to bolster Hardy’s trade value over the off-season?
I hope not. As we’ve talked about with regards to Matt Wieters earlier this season, I hate this practice of service time manipulation. JJ Hardy has earned the right to be a free agent after 2010 – for the Brewers to game the system at this point in his career in order to push back his ability to earn a fair market contract would be a travesty of ethics. I know they’re legally allowed to do so, but that doesn’t make it right.
If the Brewers organization has any sense of right and wrong, Hardy better be back in the majors soon enough to earn his full year of service for 2009. If he’s not, the union should file the grievance to end all grievances, and I’ll be completely on the union’s side. Hardy is a high quality major league player who has earned a major league job and a major league payday, and regardless of Alcides Escobar‘s presence, he belongs on the Brewers roster.
Let’s hope for everyone’s sake that he’s back in the big leagues post haste, or this could get really, really ugly.