The Baltimore Orioles continue to make over their infield by trading a couple of relievers (Brett Jacobson and Jim Hoey) to the Minnesota Twins for shortstop J. J. Hardy and seat-moistener Brendan Harris.
David Golebiewski discussed the Twins’ side of the trade earlier, and helpfully goes over the relievers the Orioles gave up there. In short, while Jacobsen has something of a penchant for grounders and Hoey has a high strikeout rate, there are enough question marks about each pitcher that the Orioles probably don’t need to lose too much sleep about either one becoming the next Mariano Rivera in the near (or distant) future.
The Twins probably feel the same way about losing Brendan Harris. While Harris had a surprisingly good season for the 2007 Rays (you might remember him as the guy who stepped in as Ben Zobrist — that’s right — crashed and burned during that season) and was moderately useful in 2008 after coming over to the Twins along with Delmon Young as part of Bill Smith‘s tremendous return for Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett, over the past two seasons Harris’ bat has gone from bad to awful. Combined with a general inability to play effective defense anywhere on the infield (I suppose he hasn’t gotten a chance to play first, though), Harris is a typical low-end bench player. The Twins signed him to a two-year before this past season, so this really is a mini-salary dump of the $1.75 million dollars Harris is owed for 2011. The Orioles basically took on Harris’ salary to partially make up for the surplus on the other asset the received from the Twin Cities.
That other asset is the somewhat enigmatic J.J. Hardy. While much attention understandably has focused on Hardy’s bat, which was good in 2007 and 2008, collapsed in 2009, and crept back a bit in 2010, the real key to his value lies in his glove. By most measures, Hardy is somewhere in the above-average range, and at shortstop not much offense is necessary for him to be a valuable player. Given Hardy’s .313 wOBA in 2010 and .292 in 2009, it may surprise some that his overall wOBA over the last three seasons is .324, but he received more plate appearance in 2008 than in either of the other two seasons. He’s probably more like the hitter of 2010 than the very good hitter of 2008 or horrible hitter of 2009, and coupled with his good defense, that’s a very good player. However, there has to be some concerns about the 28-year-old’s durability at this point, he only played 115 games in 2009 (although part of that is due to being sent down) and 101 games in 2010. Over a full season, Hardy may very well be a 3.5 win player, but after his recent problems staying on the field, something like 2 to 2.5 is probably a safer bet. Given the current market and his likely arbitration award (probably somewhere between six and seven million dollars), that’s still a very good deal for the Orioles, and likely part of why they are having to take on Harris’ salary.
How Hardy figures in the rebuilding Orioles’ long-term future is difficult to discern. He will finally be eligible for free agency after 2011 due to having his service time gamed by the Brewers during his miserable 2009. He isn’t a star, but if the market for shortstops is anything like as bare as it is this offseason, it stands to reason he could make some real money in free agency. Thus, the Orioles can’t plan on him being around after this season unless they have plans to extend him, something they probably want to wait and see on given Hardy’s recent history. Coupled with the Mark Reynolds trade and the returning Brian Roberts, the Orioles should have a pretty decent infield in 2011. Given the team’s recent troubles, that does hold some short-term value for the Orioles. Even if it doesn’t really affect their long-term fate, given the price, it’s a nice move by an Orioles team that could use a few more bright spots.