The Twins definitely bought low on Hardy when they acquired him from the Brewers during the offseason. He was coming off of the worst season of his career, batting just .229/.302/.357 with little of the power that made him a 4+WAR player in 2007 and 2008. Hardy was having such a terrible season at the plate that the Brewers sent him down to AAA to get his swing back and installed Alcides Escobar as the everyday shortstop. Escobar performed well enough that GM Doug Melvin decided Hardy was expendable, and since his team was in need of a center fielder to replace the departing Mike Cameron, dealt him to Minnesota for Carlos Gomez. The deal thus far has been a wash for both sides, though slightly in Minnesota’s favor.
J.J. Hardy’s 2010 season isn’t much of an improvement over his disappointing 2009. He’s batting just .258/.300/.378, with a .120 isolated power and .301 weighted on-base average. He did spend a couple of weeks on the disabled list with a wrist injury earlier in the season, and it looks like he’s just starting to get his swing back. He isn’t walking as much (a career-low 5.6%), though his strikeout rate is down a bit as well (16.1%, down from 20.5% in 2009). According to Fangraphs, Hardy has been worth 1.5 WAR overall.
Gomez isn’t really doing so well at the plate, either. He still doesn’t draw a lot of walks (5.9%), still strikes out a lot (25.6%), and though his power numbers are up a little (.122 ISO), they are still below league-average. He still chases pitches outside the strikezone (38.2 O-Swing %), still whiffs a lot (11.5%), and doesn’t make contact very much (just 76.5%). Gomez is batting just .228/.286/.350 and might eventually lose his starting job to Lorenzo Cain. Fangraphs pegs Go-Go at 0.3 WAR this season.
The big difference between the two has been on defense. Hardy is his typical steady self, with a 7.7 UZR in 517.1 innings at short. He is hardly the fastest or most agile player on the field, but his positioning and arm strength (and accuracy) make up for whatever he might lack in athletic ability. Carlos Gomez, on the other hand, has seen a huge dive in his defensive numbers, and I’m not really sure why. His UZR is barely above replacement-level, at 0.2, which is down from the 7.7 and 17.8 seasons he posted in Minnesota. Unless he’s hurt, this may just be due to a sample-size error.
It’s also worth noting that Escobar has also been struggling both at the plate and in the field. He’s batting .250/.304/.336 (though he’s also been a bit unlucky) while posting a perfectly average 0.2 UZR in 793 innings at short. He’s been worth about 0.5 WAR. So, essentially Gomez and Escobar have been worth a combined 0.8 WAR and will probably finish the season at about 1.8 WAR, while Hardy has been worth 1.5 WAR and should finish the season a little over 2.0. Minnesota might have won the trade this year, but it’s really too close to call.
However, the Brewers could still come out ahead on this deal. Carlos Gomez will be under team control through 2014. He’s also young enough to improve at the plate, though that seems unlikely after three full seasons in the major leagues. Of course, that’s only half of the story. If you take Escobar into consideration, Milwaukee almost certainly wins this deal. The Brewers dumped an older, more expensive player to clear space for a 24 year-old who should provide at least average production (and above-average defense) for minimum wage over the next six years. Unless the Twins sign Hardy to a contract extension in the offseason (not likely, given their financial constraints), he’s only under team control through 2012. Unless he somehow regains his power stroke, he’ll probably be worth about 6 WAR during his stint in Minnesota. The odds that the Brewers will get about 6 WAR out of Escobar alone over the next three years is pretty good.