With the team making progress on a deal with Tsuyoshi Nishioka, the Minnesota Twins evidently felt comfortable enough with the club’s other middle infield options to deal shortstop J.J. Hardy (and utility man Brendan Harris) to the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for power relievers Brett Jacobson and Jim Hoey. But in jettisoning Hardy for some ‘pen help, the Twins might be opening up a hole on the roster that Alexi Casilla isn’t capable of filling.
First, let’s start with what the Twins picked up. Jacobson, a 24-year-old righty reliever acquired from Detroit by the O’s in the 2009 Aubrey Huff deal, has moved through the minors at a glacial pace. The Vanderbilt product has 8.1 K/9, 3.3 BB/9 and a 4.00 FIP in 136.1 High Class A innings over the past two years. Jacobson has some sink on his low-90s fastball, which has helped him post a groundball rate exceeding 50%, but his secondary stuff (a curveball and a changeup) is considered ordinary and his peripherals suggest he’s likely headed for a career in middle relief.
Hoey has big league experience, having tossed 34.1 wild innings for Baltimore in 2006 and 2007 (6.29 K/9, 6.03 BB/9, 5.84 xFIP). Turning 28 later this month, Hoey rose to prominence in the Orioles’ system by punching out scores of hitters with upper-90s gas, but his career was sidetracked by shoulder surgery that wiped out his 2008 season. Since then, he has continued to miss bats (12 K/9 in 52.2 frames between Double-A and Triple-A this past year). But he also misses home plate way too often, having issued 5.8 BB/9 in 2010.
To pick up one control-challenged reliever who may or may not help this season and a slow-track ‘pen prospect, the Twins traded away one fungible player but also an above-average, up-the-middle starter who won’t be easily replaced.
The 30-year-old Harris is no big loss. During his three seasons with the Twins, he has a park and league-adjusted wOBA that’s 20 percent worse than average (80 wRC+). Add in lead-footed defense at third base, shortstop and second base, and you have a utility player without much utility — Harris has contributed +0.3 WAR over the past three years, including negative marks in 2009 and 2010.
Hardy, meanwhile, is coming off an injury-riddled 2010 season in which he still managed to post +2.4 WAR for the Twinkies. Acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers in November of 2009 for outfielder Carlos Gomez, Hardy was limited to 375 plate appearances and 101 games by a left wrist ailment. While hardly robust, Hardy’s .268/.320/.394 triple-slash and 96 wRC+ weren’t terrible. His 2010 work is a pretty good representation of who he is at the plate — during his big league career, Hardy has a 98 wRC+.
The 28-year-old is close to an average MLB batter, but where he really stands out is in the field. Hardy had a +12.8 UZR/150 last season, and his career mark is +11 per 150 defensive games played. Hardy’s decent lumber/top-rate leather combo makes him an asset. Conservatively, Hardy projects as a +2.5 win player, and he could top 3 WAR if he’s over his wrist problems.
Entering arbitration for the final time, Hardy is expected to make something in the range of $6-7 million in 2011. If a win costs about $5 million, then Hardy’s projected 2011 production would be worth something in the range of $12-16 million. Are Jacobson and Hoey worth the surplus value that the Twins surrendered? I doubt it, and the deal leaves the reigning AL Central champs with a question mark at shortstop.
The Twins reportedly view Nishioka as a second baseman. If that’s the case, then Minnesota’s showing a lot of faith in making Casilla, who has been exactly replacement-level during his major league career, an everyday player. The 26-year-old switch-hitter owns a 77 wRC+ in a little more than 1,000 big league PA. He’s not an especially patient hitter (career 7.2 BB%) and he’s got Ecksteinian power (.077 ISO). Defensively, he has been a -8 run defender in about 2,000 innings at second base, with a little over 200 innings of work at shortstop.
I’d be shocked if Casilla comes anywhere close to Hardy’s production level in 2011. Should Casilla get a starting job, it’s possible that he’s a win-and-a-half to two win downgrade at the position.
Perhaps the Twins were concerned about the bullpen, considering Jon Rauch, Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier and Brian Fuentes are free agents. But they got a middling relief bounty in return for Hardy, while making themselves weaker in the everyday lineup.
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