The JJ Hardy Plan
With all the talk of whether the M’s should be buyers or sellers, I’ve advocated for the last few months that the M’s should be both.
This team is not good enough to justify hanging onto Erik Bedard and Jarrod Washburn only to watch them leave via free agency at years end, when the trade market is craving veteran starting pitching. If this team had a 40% chance or better at making the playoffs, then you could look at maximizing the talent on the 2009 squad at the expense of future teams in order to take a chance at winning in October. But, realistically, their playoff odds are more like 15%, so five out of six times, that push for the playoffs comes up short and the team gets neither October baseball or future value in exchange for keeping Bedard and Washburn.
On the other hand, a 15% chance of making the playoffs is too high to abandon as a lost cause. The potential reward for that one-in-six chance coming up in your favor is extremely high, and should keep the team away from a blow-up-the-roster-and-play-the-kids strategy. St. Louis won a World Series in 2006 while going 83-79 in the regular season and outscoring their opponents by a whopping 19 runs. You don’t have to be the ’27 Yankees to get hot in October, and the M’s have enough talent to make a crazy playoff run possible. You can’t pretend that the potential for that kind of outcome, even if it is unlikely, has no value.
So the team is faced with a scenario where it should trade Bedard and Washburn for players that will be around past this season, but also should be looking to keep the 2009 team competitive. The solution? J.J. Hardy.
The Brewers shortstop was drafted by Zduriencik when he was the scouting director for Milwaukee. Since arriving in the majors in 2005, Hardy has compiled a career .264/.324/.435 mark that is about as close to league average as you can possibly get. Over 2,168 plate appearances in the big leagues, Hardy’s Weighted Runs Above Average is -0.5. Half of a run below average as a hitter over his 4+ year career. When someone says he’s a league average hitter, they aren’t kidding.
A league average hitter might not be that exciting, but it isn’t very easy to find league average hitters who play quality defense at premium positions. As Mariner fans have seen over the past few years, the average offense + terrific defense combination is quite valuable. And Hardy is a really good defender – his career UZR is +39 in 4,411 innings, which works out to about +12 runs per 150 games. That makes him one of the best defensive shortstops in the game.
This is, essentially, the Adrian Beltre/Mike Cameron/Franklin Gutierrez skillset. Hardy is that kind of player. Over his big league career, he’s been worth +13.4 wins in those 2,168 PA, or about +3.7 wins per season. He turns 27 in August, so he’s not living off of career year performances that he can’t be expected to repeat, either. Going forward, Hardy should be projected as a +4 win player over a full season.
Why on earth would the Brewers want to trade a 26-year-old +4 win shortstop while they are in the middle of a pennant race? Because they have this kid named Alcides Escobar hanging out in Triple-A, waiting for the call to Milwaukee. Escobar is a 22-year-old that the Milwaukee front office is absolutely in love with, to the point that when declaring him off limits in trade discussions, Doug Melvin said “You can go years without having a shortstop prospect like him. They don’t come around that often.”
Escobar is a premium defender with an improving bat, currently hitting .296/.348/.417 in Triple-A, including a .310/.412/.517 mark in July. He’s capable of holding his own in the big leagues right now, and he’d be one of the rangiest players in the league from the moment he got to the big leagues. Quite simply, Escobar is the Brewers shortstop of the future, and they’re going to have to move Hardy out of his way at some point soon.
They could move him to third base, except he has no interest in playing anywhere besides shortstop and their other “untouchable” prospect, Mat Gamel, is getting time there right now. They could move him to second base, but Casey McGehee is posting a .396 wOBA while filling in for the injured Rickie Weeks, who will be back next season. In reality, they just don’t have a spot for Hardy going forward. His future is somewhere besides Milwaukee.
So, if Melvin is looking at an inevitable trade of Hardy, dealing him now to acquire some badly needed pitching help makes more sense than waiting to deal him this winter. Melvin has been blunt about his ability to acquire pitching in this market, stating that the teams that are willing to move veteran starting pitchers are looking for young pitchers back in return, and he doesn’t have any to trade. He’s a man trying to buy in a land where his currency isn’t any good.
The M’s, however, should have little to no interest in getting a young pitcher back from the Brewers. The Mariners need a shortstop, and the Brewers have two. The Brewers need starting pitchers, and the Mariners have seven. This would be a perfect match even if Zduriencik and Melvin hadn’t spent years working together. Their history should make a deal between those two significantly easier to hash out.
What kind of deal would work for both sides? No need to make this complicated. The M’s ship both of their free-agent-to-be starters to Milwaukee, along with enough cash to fit their salaries into Milwaukee’s budget, in exchange for Hardy. Both teams trade from depth to fill holes.
For the Mariners, the move would essentially break down like this.
Hardy replaces Cedeno at SS
Hardy (projected .338 wOBA going forward) would be a big offensive upgrade from Cedeno (projected .284 wOBA going forward), and probably a minor upgrade from Cedeno defensively. Over two and a half months, the offensive difference would be worth about 11 runs.
Morrow replaces Bedard at SP
One talented but enigmatic pitcher replaces another. Morrow’s not nearly as good as Bedard, but as we saw in Boston, he has his moments. His projected FIP of 4.37 over 69 innings over the rest of the year is a dropoff from Bedard’s 3.19 FIP over 62 innings, but only about an eight run difference.
Rowland-Smith replaces Washburn at SP
This is where it gets a little dicey. Washburn’s projected for a 4.22 FIP over 77 innings for the rest of the season, but ZIPS doesn’t know that Ryan Rowland-Smith has been converted to the rotation, got placed on the disabled list for a few months, and then had some issues with decreased velocity in Triple-A. However, RRS has pitched well in the majors in previous years and his last three starts for Tacoma have been very good, so there are reasons to believe that he could join the rotation and pitch well. If you think he’s going to be something like a Jason Vargas and post a ~5.00 FIP over the rest of the season, you’d be looking at a six run dropoff. If you think he’d be really bad, we could give him a 5.50 FIP and the gap would go up to ten runs.
Add it all up for the M’s, and the net difference of adding Hardy while subtracting Bedard and Washburn would be something like -5 runs over the rest of the year. That’s half a win that they lose, while also getting to retain Hardy’s services for 2010 (after which point, this deal would be an easy net positive for the Mariners).
If I do the same thing for the Brewers, just without the wordiness, we get a -5 for the dropoff from Hardy to Escobar, a +9 from Suppan to Bedard, and a +4 from Burns to Washburn. That makes them almost a win better this year by making this deal. They also offset the loss of Hardy’s future value by getting the draft pick back from letting Bedard leave via free agency, and potentially getting Washburn to sign a home town discount deal to stay in Wisconsin beyond this season.
The M’s get a shortstop for the present and future. They make the 2009 roster only marginally worse while drastically improving the 2010 roster and providing a long term solution to the shortstop problem. The Brewers get much needed pitching help, while clearing the way for their shortstop of the future, and they do so without having to expand their budget or trade away any pieces from their farm system.
This is the quintessential win-win trade. The M’s allow themselves to stay in contention for the rest of 2009 (and if you’re that concerned with the rotation after the deal, just go trade for Ian Snell, who Pittsburgh is trying to give away) and acquire a foundation-caliber player who will stick around for 2010 and potentially beyond.
The M’s have surplus pitching. The Brewers have a surplus at shortstop. The Mariners need a shortstop, and the Brewers need pitching. Let’s just make everyone happy and pull the trigger on this, okay?