12 December 2012

Will trading JJ Hardy improve the Orioles?

There has been a general feeling from many national writers as well as those in the fan base that moving J.J. Hardy (who is currently under contract for two years at seven million a piece) could help improve the team in the present as well as in the future.  The opportunity presenting itself is one where Manny Machado is able to shift over to shortstop and then back filling the third base position.  The need there would be to get someone who could play at third for a couple seasons while Jonathan Schoop develops into what is hoped to be at least a league average third baseman.

A major problem is finding someone who is worth as much as JJ Hardy is:

Po. wRC+ Defense xWAR
JJ Hardy SS 92 10 3.7
Manny Machado SS 96 0 3.0

3B 96 10 3.0
The above numbers are somewhat optimistic.  The offensive and defensive components are not what are optimistic.  What is optimistic is assuming that JJ Hardy can be worth 3.7 WAR because it is projected to 150 games.  That is something Hardy has done twice in his seven years of service time.  More likely, the team could expect something more in the neighborhood of 2.8 to 3.2 WAR as Hardy may play somewhere around 125 games.

Unfortunately with the scope limited to 3B, that number is not projected to be matched by anyone who is available in free agency.

Age wRC+ Defense xWAR
Miguel Cairo 39 77 0 0.4
Mark DeRosa 38 68 -5 -0.8
Chone Figgins 35 72 5 0.5
Alberto Gonzalez 30 54 15 0.0
Jack Hannahan 33 74 10 1.2
Orlando Hudson 35 85 -5 0.6
Brandon Inge 36 81 10 1.8
Adam Kennedy 37 82 0 0.8
Jose Lopez 29 66 0 -0.5
Casey McGehee 30 72 5 0.5
Placido Polanco 37 75 10 1.3
Mark Reynolds 29 108 -30 0.0
Scott Rolen 38 87 5 1.7
Brandon Snyder 27 103 -15 1.1
Ian Stewart 27 68 5 0.2
Ty Wigginton 35 89 -15 -0.1
Kevin Youkilis 34 105 -5 2.2
The best figure on the list is Kevin Youkilis' 2.2 WAR, but he has been hobbled by injuries over the past four seasons.  He may be putting in anywhere between 50 to 120 games.  The third best target is Scott Rolen, who is also a major risk.  The general take home message here is that basically all options are rather poor ones with major question marks.  The Phillies when presented with these options chose to go with Michael Young, who was the worst full time player in baseball last season and someone who has never looked comfortable at third base.  They are banking on him improving upon his defense and showing something more similar to his 2010 season as opposed to his 2011 season.  My choice would have been different as many of these options would have been cheaper than the 6 MM the Phillies are paying along with the two decent relief pitchers.  Guys like Figgins, Hannahan, Inge, Polanco, and Gonzalez might be decent pick ups.  Though, to be honest, none of these solutions have the potential upside of Young.

That upside is wishing though.  A common thought process risk assessors go through is attaching themselves to a desired outcome.  That is, if you want something then you are more likely to forgive misfortune than recognize good luck.  It is a concept I have mentioned often this off season.  That people are more likely to forgive something like Nick Markakis' injury than understand the good fortune of something like Miguel Gonzalez' performance.

Anyway, bringing this discussion back to the main point of the article...can JJ Hardy be adequately replaced for what he brings to the team?  Highly unlikely.  The Orioles would need to be more creative than simply dealing Hardy for prospects and filling in third base via free agency.  The talent simply does not appear to be available.  Perhaps, signing Brandon Inge along with finding a +1 improvement on an established position (e.g., 1B or DH) might be a solution and one that is useful if pieces are also acquired that will be of value for future seasons. 

The remaining teams most active on the shortstop market are the Tigers, A's, Diamondbacks, Red Sox, and Yankees.  Targets would be players capable of providing a 3 WAR value which would provide the needed increase of one of the established positions.  The focus on a Tigers deal would be for Rick Porcello who would likely be a +1 or more increase upon whoever the team trots out in the 5 slot in the rotation.  For the A's, that target would be Josh Reddick.  He has an average bat and plus defense.  With the Diamondbacks, the likely player to acquire would be Justin Upton.  The Red Sox' Jacoby Ellsbury would be the target with that team.  The Yankees?  I see no opportunities there.  Of course, identifying a target does not mean it will be easy or even possible to engage these teams on these players...though trade rumors have been mentioned for each of these targets.

In the end, it will be a challenge to deal Hardy while maintaining value on the big league club.  Even more difficult will be to maintain that value while improving the team in the future.  Porcello and, maybe, Reddick would be the two targets that might bring back talent in addition to the player mentioned.  However, that certainly is not a guaranty.

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