November 6, 2009

Trade Evaluation: Carlos Gomez for JJ Hardy

Now that everyone is starting to calm down over the initial reports of dealing fan-favorite Carlos Gomez for JJ Hardy, it's time to evaluate the trade from several angles.


This trade from a Twins perspective is good. While Gomez is one of the best defensive outfielders in the league, he yielded playing time in center field to Denard Span and when Delmon Young started hitting late in the season, Gomez saw seldom playing time. The Twins clearly didn't value Gomez's defense enough to make up for his putrid offense. Which obviously made him expendable.

The Twins being able to pry Hardy from the Brewers without having to give up more than Gomez looks to be an initial 'win' for Minnesota. Hardy was once viewed as 'untouchable' with the likes of Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, but poor play and the emergence of Alcides Escobar ultimately forced the Brewers hand. The Twins having gaping holes everywhere except for first base in the infield. Hardy fufills a hole at shortstop while Nick Punto likely fills another hole at either second or third base.

To add: Peter brought up a good point in the comment sections. Baseball has a lot to do with marketing and while Gomez was a fan-favorite in the Twin Cities, Hardy has been known to be a fan-favorite in Wisconsin and I'm sure (from a marketing perspective) the Twins aren't losing a ton while potentially gaining a lot of marketability in Hardy.


The Brewers, as mentioned, felt the need to trade Hardy now while he still has some value left. But had they traded him prior to the July trade deadline, the Brewers probably would have gotten quite a bit more in return. With Mat Gamel making his way to the Majors and Casey McGehee emerging as an option the Brewers thoughts of moving Hardy to third base didn't seem like a viable option anymore. With no room left for Hardy in the infield, the Brewers knew heading into the off-season that they'd have to move one of them to fill in another position of need.

Pitching seemed to be the likely position they'd target in a trade. Mike Cameron is a free agent and seemed likely to test the free agent waters, so the Brewers decided to not waste any time in findinig his replacement. They go from an older good defensive outfielder to a younger, better defensive outfielder. Unfortunately they'll miss Cameron's bat, but if Gomez can reach his potential, they'll be plenty pleased with what Gomez can bring to the table. A fine move on the Brewers behalf.

Now what?

Despite what I mentioned earlier, Bill Smith mentioned that this will mean the end of Orlando Cabrera's time in Minnesota. Smith also mentioned that Nick Punto will likely play either second base or third base which means the club could look to add one of the two. Punto can play either position adequately so the Twins have plenty of options. Right now, the lineup would likely be:

That lineup (to many) would be great, but it unfortunately makes me cringe. Why? Because the thought of Hardy batting second makes me want to puke. He has a career .323 on-base percentage and last season, he got on base 30.2% of the time, which is not good enough for the two-hole. The Twins are notorious for wasting the number two spot in the lineup and when you have guys at number one and three in the lineup that get on-base at a high clip, the two-hole shouldn't be any different.

In order to optimize the lineup we have, I think it's pretty clear that the Twins need to add a player that is a better fit in the two-hole than what Hardy is. In turn, the Twins will be able to stretch their lineup out, allowing Hardy to slide down to number seven in the lineup.

Even after this latest trade, the Twins still have several trading chips that could interest other teams. They also have a few options they can pursue via free agency. One player that would fit the role perfectly would be Chone Figgins, but acquiring him is probably not realistic. To me, the best fit would be Felipe Lopez.

After struggling to crack the lineup as a regular in Toronto, the Blue Jays traded Lopez to Cincinnati prior to the 2003 season. The Reds got similar production from Lopez in both 2003 and 2004 as he backed-up Barry Larkin. Larkin retired prior to the 2005 season and the Reds gave Lopez an opportunity to start. He finished the season hitting .291/.352/.486 with 62 extra-base hits including 23 home runs.

But Lopez was traded to the Washington Nationals in the middle of the 2006 season and he fell off the face of the earth during his two years spent in the nation's capital and the Nationals decided to trade him during the 2008 season to the St. Louis Cardinals. Something started clicking for Lopez in St. Louis and he carried it with him as a free agent in 2009 to the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Diamondbacks were out of contention at the trade deadline and dealt him to the Milwaukee Brewers where he continued to rip the cover off of the ball.

Lopez isn't an All-Star by any means, but he's a solid defensive second baseman and can fill in at third base if needed. He also has a .392 OBP since the middle of the 2008 season which can't be ignored. Lopez signed a one-year $3.5 million deal with the Diamondbacks last off-season and is likely to receive a substantial pay raise this time around.

Lopez is still on the good side of 30, which means he'll likely be getting a multi-year contract. The Twins don't look to have anyone close to the Majors who would be threatening to take over second base anytime soon so if they wanted to explore a two or three-year deal with Lopez, it'd be a good decision. Signing Lopez to a two-years and $12 million with a third year option of $8 million would be a great move for the Twins.

It'd also give us a lineup like this:

And the best part? The Twins can do this without having to break the bank for someone like Figgins. In fact, according to the TwinsCentric GM Handbook, this would give the Twins a payroll around $87 million. Even if the Twins added $7-8 million onto Mauer's contract extension (if they do sign him to an extension), the Twins would still be within what their self-imposed salary cap would be, which is believed to be between $90-100.

And the Twins could still have a few million to work with in signing a starting pitcher. A good risk for the Twins would be to look into Ben Sheets as a free agent. He likely could be signed for under $2 million (without incentives) and could be a huge boost to this rotation.

The point I'm trying to get across is that the Twins still have a lot of options on how they want to finish off this roster and while re-signing Mauer remains the top priority, it's great to see the Twins not waste any time acquiring new players.