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November 6, 2009

Transaction Action

Party Hardy, Gardy

by Christina Kahrl

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CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Announced their buyout of RF-R Jermaine Dye's option for 2010, and that Dye has opted for free agency; announced the receipt of $$-$ Fabulous Moolah from the Royals as part of the price of the Teahen trade. [11/6]

And Kenny Williams happily confirmed the supposition that Teahen's going to play third base, so there's nothing that doesn't say the Sox can't re-sign Dye for less than the $12 million picking up his option would have cost them. Failing that, they can look at what the market has to offer, and whether that involves signing a center fielder and putting Alex Rios back in right, or signing a corner outfielder and leaving Rios in center, it's just not that unreasonable a course of action.


KANSAS CITY ROYALS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Declined their club options for 2010 on the contracts of CF-S Coco Crisp, C-R Miguel Olivo, and LHP Yasuhiko Yabuta; announced that they also sent the White Sox $$-S Stacks O'Cash to consummate the Teahen trade . [11/6]

It just cost the Royals $1.1 million to make these three people go away. You can hope that the Royals will now avail themselves of the opportunity to employ Crisp at something less than his initial $8 million option for 2010, but the way this team's going, I wouldn't have that much doubt of a decision to make Mitch Maier their starter and petition the Commissioner to relegate them to the PCL and take a shot at a title.

It's the decision to ditch Olivo that really has to grate in some circles; Crisp's option was for too much, while Yabuta was a $6 million mistake made from the wild-eyed notion that Trey Hillman knew his Japanese leaguers, having managed over there and all. But a catcher who delivers a .261 EqA, as Olivo did in 2009, he's a significant asset, right? Well, sort of. His track record over the last four years of semi-regularity suggests that .261 is the upper boundary of his contributions, with .230 being the lower end. As exasperating as it is that you're the team paying John Buck about as much ($2.9 million in 2009) as Olivo was on tap for in 2010 ($3.3 million), you don't have to automatically assume Buck's going to be next season's starter, although if he is, there's always that relegation thing to consider.

The one thing to recognize about Olivo is that, whatever his benefits as a good-throwing catcher and someone with some sock are, employing him behind the plate also involves hazards. His receiving skills are just flat-out awful, per some fine work done by Brian Cartwright before the season, and followed up on by others after this season. If the peril of employing Olivo behind the plate can lead to as much as an MLB-worst -8 runs on wild pitches and passed balls, deciding to not employ him makes a bit more sense, especially when it isn't as if the AL Central division title hangs in the balance. As many problems as the Royals have, breaking with Olivo isn't automatically a symptom of further bad things.


MINNESOTA TWINS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Acquired SS-R J.J. Hardy from the Brewers for CF-R Carlos Gomez. [11/6]

The Twins had to stop settling where their infield was concerned, and the certainly couldn't afford to lurch through another crazy-quilt of rentals, a Joe Crede here and an Orlando Cabrera there and, in the end, an awful lot of Nick Punto and Brendan Harris all over the place. Two years into having the benefit of Carlos Gomez as the "centerpiece" of the cripplingly disappointing Johan Santana trade, they'd sort of understandably lost their enthusiasm for as well.

Rather than mope or waste his winter mulling alternatives, it looks like Bill Smith jumped right into doing something bold and expensive to turn the page on both disappointing chapters at once. It's a move that should pay off handsomely as far as delivering a worthwhile starting shortstop to kick off their first campaign in Target Field. Hardy already rates well by just about every defensive metric, and has also always been a scouts' fave afield. On defense, he'll provide Twins fans and pitchers alike the pleasure and benefit of a shortstop with excellent range, good hands, and a cannon for an arm.

Two years of Hardy at arbitration-inflated expense for four seasons of Gomez for less after both players had bad 2009 campaigns might seem a bit of a push, since both are up-the-middle players and premium defenders. However, as challenge trades go, this looks much better for the Twins than the Brewers. Unlike Gomez, Hardy's actually been able to do something in the major leagues, and two years employing a quality defender at short who also has a couple of outstanding seasons at the plate to his credit sounds like a good addition to a lineup that needs to break from its too-stark stars/scrubs divide. Add in that the Twins acquired what should be two peak seasons of Hardy's career-his age-27 and age-28 campaigns-and it looks better still as a win-now move for a team whose core talent is already ready to win now.

Before this year's disappointing .242 EqA, Hardy had produced at a .269 clip in 2007 and .285 in 2008. That supplied some of the rationale behind PECOTA's seven-year forecast of EqAs in the .270s, something that in the broader scheme of things seems both defensible as a matter of expectation, and still something to expect going forward. Even moving to the tougher league after this year's stumble, there's still plenty of reason to anticipate his bouncing back: his line-drive rate and (resultantly) his BABIP were ghastly in the scale of his misfortune, while his walk rate was up a bit. We won't know how Target Field will play ("colder"), but Miller Park isn't a big production booster, so he shouldn't lose out there either.

There's also the more general economic point to make. A shortstop as good as Hardy has been would cost more on the open market than these next two years with arbitration cases to work through will cost the Twins. They could not have gotten a player of Hardy's caliber via free agency-this winter's pickings at the position are slim as is-and you would have anticipated having to give up a lot more than Carlos Gomez to get someone even close. All of that's before getting into whether or not Gomez was headed into a 2010 where he might have to worry about losing his job to Ben Revere or Joe Benson later in the season, let alone ineffectually trying to fend off the likes of a Rene Tosoni beforehand; do as badly as Gomez has, and you deserve few additional breaks. Even without such talent on the way, the Twins were already into a time when disappointments from Gomez and Delmon Young weren't affordable; Gomez lost his job to Denard Span for cause. Now, it's Young who's a marked man, and someone who will have to hit to keep his job, not just because it's his only useful tool, but because Michael Cuddyer should be back in right (with Justin Morneau's return from the DL), Span will be in center-but perhaps only until one of the aforementioned fast-rising kids is ready.

So here again, Bill Smith deserves credit for doing an excellent job as far as getting his man at a position where his club needed an answer. He got the guy who is almost certainly the best available shortstop on the market this winter, because after requiring an Orlando Cabrera rental for its stretch run, this team clearly needed a shortstop. When you look at the cost-beyond cash-being a center-field prospect of dimming luster, someone the Twins could afford to part with, having already lost his job and who would have been hard-pressed to reclaim it, let alone keep it into the future. Admittedly, by acquiring "just" two years of control over Hardy, it's a short-term bet, but it's one the Twins' farm system has covered in terms of replacing Gomez, and it's a move that helps a contending team stay that way in the always-combative AL Central. Add in the defensive benefits plus the possibility of Danny Valencia settling in at third at some point next season, and second base might be the only open position for the Harrises and the Puntos to crop up (meaning Alexi Casilla's future just got that much more dim).

It's way too early to talk about the best trade of the winter, but this one looks very good as an answer for immediate needs for a team whose core is already in place, and from an executive who's quickly moving from non-descript organizational guy to an operator who isn't going to let the Mauer/Morneau years slide by.


ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Announced their decision to exercise the club's $8.5 option on RHP Brandon Webb for 2010. [11/6]

ATLANTA BRAVES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed RHP Scott Proctor to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [11/6]

MILWAUKEE BREWERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Acquired CF-R Carlos Gomez from the Twins for SS-R J.J. Hardy. [11/6]

We knew Hardy was outbound, what with the elaborate manipulation of his service time to keep him away from free agency after 2010, making him a two-year pickup for whomever the Brewers traded him to. We knew Hardy was going to wind up in arbitration, which wouldn't have been cheap, even allowing for his not advancing much beyond the $4.65 million he made in 2010. We knew the Brewers expected to get something good, because two years of a start-worthy shortstop has value in a world where some contenders have to keep themselves going with Nick Green or the like. We also knew, or could at least anticipate, that the Brewers need pitching.

OK, all well and good. So how does this wind up with the Brewers trading two years of Hardy for four years of Gomez, and solve any of their problems? The pitching staff's still a bit of a wreck, although getting Hardy off of the books (and employing Alcides Escobar in his place) gets costs down, as does watching Mike Cameron walk off the payroll as a free agent. Maybe they don't pick up Braden Looper's option for 2010, do OK with their stack of arbitration cases, and wind up with enough cash to add pitching that'll make a difference. Maybe. And maybe Gomez's defensive skills help make that pitching that much better. And maybe an infield with Escobar at short, Mat Gamel at third, Rickie Weeks back in action at second, and Casey McGehee helping out at second and third helps score enough runs. Maybe. This was the second-best offense in baseball, after all, and that was despite frustrations with Hardy plus injuries to Corey Hart and Weeks.

Maybe swapping out Cameron for Gomez isn't such a big hit to take, since you've still got Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun, and since Weeks seemed to have turned a corner before getting hurt, maybe you don't need to pretend McGehee's going to be that good again. So, maybe you have three superstar-caliber performers, plus Escobar and Gamel on your new left side of the infield to cover for one another's respective shortcomings at the plate and in the field. Hart in right and Braun in left, find someone who can hit as well or better than Jason Kendall, and you're not so bad off in the lineup, and with the money saved, you can shore up that pitching staff.

It's not a bad plan as plans go, but I guess I come back to Hardy-for-Gomez, and I'm not really very thrilled with it. Sure, Gomez is only going to turn 24 next month, and he had to hit in the grown-ups' league, and that's hard, so who can blame him for struggling? The problem is that however good his tools might be, however good his defense is, he hasn't shown much adaptability in his two seasons in The Show. He saw his pitches per plate appearance, power on contact, and walk and strikeout rates improve... barely. Whatever his reputation as a speedster, he cost the Twins runs on the bases this year after contributing a little bit in 2008. While the Hardy example goes to show that you can always jigger around a guy's service time to help yourself keep him an extra year or two, that would involve Gomez failing pretty badly at some point during the course of the four years they're sure to have him, or simply continuing to hit as badly as he has so far.

Outfield defense is in vogue, of course, and maybe the Brewers have convinced themselves they just added the new Franklin Gutierrez. Fine, but Gutierrez is older and was more of a sure thing, with a stronger recent track record as a hitter, and he boasted a more reassuring, less chancy set of comparable players. Gomez's upside before falling flat this season was considerable, as his eliciting a statistical comparison to a young Lou Brock or Carlos Beltran might seem to suggest, but it's important to note that Gomez isn't really that comparable to them, and his closest comps were David Green-one of the great washouts of the '80s-and Mariano Duncan, who for a prospect wound up as a handy dandy utilityman.

As I noted, nobody's really that comparable, so we're really left with what Gomez is, because what he's done isn't to his credit. He's a plus defender in center. He runs fast, if not especially well. He's reputed to have power and the ability to make good contact; these will be welcome if they show up. You can't blame the dome, because he didn't hit especially worse at home, and even if he could, he's going to a dome with a moon roof in Milwaukee. He might help the defense a lot, but Mike Cameron didn't exactly hurt them in the field. If, four years from now, they're left thinking they got nothing, they'll have doubled the Twins' experience with him, while hardly cashing out Hardy to any purpose. That's certainly what I expect.


PITTSBURGH PIRATES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Outrighted RHPs Eric Hacker and Virgil Vasquez to Indianapolis (Triple-A); outrighted C-L Steven Lerud to Altoona (Double-A). [11/6]

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here

Related Content:  A's,  The Who,  Carlos Gomez

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