21 November 2010
Should the Twins bring back JJ Hardy for the 2011 season? On the surface, it seems a no-brainer. Why should a guy who hit .268/.320/.394 and spent much of the year on the disabled list be counted on for another season?
When healthy during the second half of last season, though, Hardy was one of the best shortstops in baseball. Over the last three months of the season, Hardy hit a very impressive .304/.363/.442. If extended over the entire season, that 805 OPS would have been the fourth-highest in the league, putting Hardy in the class of Troy Tulowitzki, Hanley Ramirez, and Stephen Drew.
Considering Hardy was demoted to the minor leagues during a miserable 2009 season, this is a remarkable development. When the Twins traded for Hardy last winter, they were of the belief that the struggling shortstop simply needed change of scenery. Twelve months later, it's obvious that they were correct.
If healthy, Hardy is one of the best offensive shortstops in the league, but the best aspect of his game is by far his defensive range. He doesn't have the quickest feet, and much of his defensive abilities lie in his incredible instincts. Several scouting reports claimed that Hardy's defense would have played at the major-league level even back in 2001, when he was drafted out of high school. He is obviously an exceptional talent in the field.
Hardy knows exactly where to position himself for each pitch, and his strong arm allows him to play a step or two deeper than most shortstops, which increases his range even further. This range cannot be quantified using traditional mainstream statistics, such as fielding percentage, so most don't appreciate how valuable Hardy was to the team last season.
Hardy hasn't compiled quite enough service time during his career to become a free agent, and will spend one last season under team control. Should Minnesota choose to offer the 28-year old a contract for the 2011 season, Hardy has no choice but to play for the Twins.
If a contractual agreement can't be reached, both the player and the team will submit figures to panel of independent arbitrators, which will pick one or the other. Neither party benefits from the risk involved with this arbitration process, so I'm confident a settlement will be reached. It's impossible to know the final value, but I would guess any potential 2011 contract for Hardy to be worth around $6 or $7 million.
But should the Hometown Nine choose to tender Hardy a contract, or allow him to leave as a free agent?
On the free agent market, a team typically spends around $4.5 million per additional win. Hardy was worth 2.4 wins during an injury-plagued 2010; how valuable could he be over the course of a full season? Even if the Twins aren't convinced of Hardy's ability to stay healthy or productive in 2011, it's a gamble they should be willing to take.
Alexi Casilla seems primed to take over the starting duties at second base, but finding a replacement at the shortstop position would be a much tougher task. The only viable internal candidate for the job would be Trevor Plouffe, who struggled in Triple-A last season. If Hardy weren't brought back for the 2011 season, the Twins would almost certainly need to look outside the organization.
Unless the Twins want to pony up for a free agent like Miguel Tejada or rely once again on Orlando Cabrera, Hardy is the only realistic option.
And he's absolutely worth the risk.
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