Hardy To The Twins

If there was one guy who was definitely getting traded this winter, it was J.J. Hardy. The Brewers had turned over their starting shortstop job to Alcides Escobar, their infield is crowded, and Hardy wasn’t interested in moving to another position. The only solution was to move him to another team, and that’s what the Brewers did today, sending him to Minnesota for Carlos Gomez.

The Twins seem to be betting on Hardy rebounding to the form he showed in 2007 and 2008, when he was a +4 to +5 win player and one of the best shortstops in baseball. His power disappeared and his BABIP went in the tank in 2009, causing his offensive value to fall apart. However, the Twins don’t need Hardy to go all the way back to what he was to make this a good deal, because even the 2009 version was a decent player, thanks to his defensive value. Hardy can really pick it at shortstop, and was a +1.4 win player in less than a full season in 2009, even with the offensive problems.

Assuming some bounce back, Hardy should project as something like a +3 win player for 2010, making him a significant value at a salary that should come in around $5 million or so. He’s easily worth twice that, and if his offense returns, he could be worth $15 to $20 million to the Twins in each of the next two years.

To acquire Hardy, the Twins gave up Gomez, an outstanding defender in his own right. Milwaukee apparently wanted a premium defender to replace Mike Cameron in center field, but they’re taking a pretty big hit offensively in the swap. Gomez strikes out too often to make the slap hitting gig work, and his inability to bunt himself on base in 2009 caused his average to sink to unacceptable levels.

Even with his elite range in the outfield, Gomez is going to have to improve offensively in order to be worth a starting job. With infields taking away the bunt, he’s going to have to get himself on base in other ways, because it’s nearly impossible to justify starting an outfielder with a .286 career wOBA when you’re trying to make the playoffs.

Gomez is still young and will make the league minimum next year, so the Brewers save some cash, but this still strikes me as a very light return on a quality player. Gomez has some potential, but he’s a work in progress, and the Brewers aren’t really in rebuilding mode. If they go into 2010 with him as their starting CF, they’re going to be taking a pretty significant risk.

Big thumbs up to the Twins here, who got better in a hurry. The Brewers had their hands tied a bit due to the logjam at SS, but it’s still hard to imagine this is the best they could do.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.