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Updated: October 20th, 2010 10:52pm
Key offseason decisions: Searching for the Healthy Hardy

Key offseason decisions: Searching for the Healthy Hardy

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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We're coming up on the one-year anniversary (November 6) of the J.J. Hardy-for-Carlos Gomez trade, and although neither team hit the jackpot by any means, it's safe to say both the Minnesota Twins and Milwaukee Brewers gained value.

The Brewers were able to devote a full season to 23-year-old shortstop Alcides Escobar -- even though he hit an abysmal .235/.288/.326 in 552 plate appearances -- while gaining nearly 600 innings of one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball, Gomez.

Gomez's offense, once again, left something to be desired, however. He hit just .247/.298/.357 in 318 injury-filled plate appearances, which is coincidentally close to the Twins' offensive output over their last five playoff series.

With Hardy, the Twins' initial goal was to plug a hole at shortstop that has been unstable, at best, since even before the team traded Jason Barlett to the Tampa Bay Rays three seasons ago.

Twins shortstops
2007:
.248/.321/.331, 5 HR, 65 "runs created", 13.1 UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating)
2008: .251/.302/.344, 6 HR, 57 "runs created", 10.2 UZR
2009: .263/.309/.374, 10 HR, 69 "runs created", -1.5 UZR

In 2009, prior to the addition of Orlando Cabrera, who caught fire in the season's final three weeks, Twins shortstops actually hit .246/.302/.336 -- well below the league average of .271/.328/.393.

Hardy, when healthy, was fairly productive.

375 PA, .268/.320/.394, 6 HR, 38 RBI, 44 runs, 41 "runs created", 8.1 UZR

"Health" being the operative word...

If we stretch Hardy's numbers out over the equivalent of 162 games -- and that is a big "if", because Hardy has had trouble staying on the field during his six-year career -- here's what his season would have looked like:

629 PA, .268/.320/.394, 10 HR, 64 RBI, 74 runs, 69 "runs created", 13.6 UZR

League average offense for MLB shortstops in 2010 was .258/.312/.357.

Not to mention, Hardy attempted to come back too early from a wrist injury in late-May. He played 12 games, clearly wasn't ready to be back on the field, and returned to the disabled list in early-June.

If we take out Hardy's numbers from that 12-game stretch, his season looks like this:

Healthy Hardy
335 PA, .285/.334/.424, 6 HR, 36 RBI, 41 runs

Over 162 games, the Healthy Hardy equates to:

629 PA, .285/.334/.424, 11 HR, 68 RBI, 77 runs, 78 "runs created", 13.6 UZR

Health, again, is the key here. When Hardy was healthy, he was one of the best shortstops in the American League this year. Healthy Hardy's .758 OPS would have ranked first among all qualified shortstops in the AL. His .334 OBP would have ranked third, and his .424 SLG would have ranked second. The 78 "runs created" would have slotted him third as well.

Even with the missed games, Hardy's 8.1 UZR ranked third among AL shortstops. Healthy Hardy's 13.6 UZR over a full season would have blown away the AL competition.

Hardy, 28, earned $5.1 million in 2010, and he has one year of arbitration remaining. If he reaches a settlement with the team prior to an arbitration hearing this fall, Hardy could earn in the neighborhood of $6.5 - 7 million.

With a lot of money already tied up for next season, $7 million for Hardy might sound like a lot. But in reality, league-average shortstops are difficult to find, and when healthy, Hardy provides a plus-bat and a plus-glove at a position without many available options.

For internal solutions, the Twins don't have much. Alexi Casilla might wind up playing second base if the Twins choose to let Orlando Hudson walk, Nick Punto is likely to become a free agent, Matt Tolbert should be used as a utility player only, and Trevor Plouffe is likely at least a half-season of Triple-A seasoning away from contributing in the big leagues.

If Hardy was guaranteed to play 140 games, retaining him would be a no-brainer -- even at $7 million.

If the Twins decide that the arbitration path is too steep of a price to pay, they also have the option of offering a multi-year deal at a reduced price (two years, $10 million, perhaps).

But it may be worth forking over a few extra bucks and hoping Hardy can tally a few more at bats, as opposed to heading into the 2011 season with a gaping hole up the middle.

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd
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