November 15, 2010

Twins Notes: Hardy, Hacker, and high payrolls

• In addition to a whole slew of free agents the Twins also have a decision to make regarding J.J. Hardy, who's under team control for 2011 as an arbitration eligible player and would be all but guaranteed to get a raise from his $5.1 million salary. From my point of view keeping Hardy for at least one more season is a no-brainer, but there have been some hints in the media to suggest the Twins are less certain it's the right move.

Hardy was far from spectacular after coming over from the Brewers last November in exchange for Carlos Gomez, batting .268/.320/.394 and missing 60 games with injuries, but evaluating his performance and value can't be done properly without comparing him to other shortstops. At first glance Hardy hitting .268/.320/.394 doesn't look impressive at all, but that was actually better than the MLB average for shortstops of .262/.319/.371.

There were a total of 28 shortstops who played at least 100 games this season. Hardy ranked 11th in batting average, 13th in on-base percentage, 10th in slugging percentage, and 11th in OPS. Much like how some people don't fully appreciate Joe Mauer's value because they don't realize how terrible the average catcher is offensively, Hardy's season seems to be underrated by people who don't realize he was actually an above-average hitter among shortstops.

And of course Hardy is also an excellent defender, leading all MLB shortstops in Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 games at +12.8 runs. His lack of durability is a real issue and makes committing to Hardy long term risky, but for a one-year commitment at $6 million it should be an easy call. He's above-average offensively, fantastic defensively, and ranks among the top dozen players at a position where the Twins lack an MLB-ready replacement and the free agent crop is weak.

• In their first pickup of the offseason the Twins signed right-hander Eric Hacker and give him a spot on the 40-man roster after the 27-year-old left the Giants as a six-year minor-league free agent. Hacker was voted the Pacific Coast League's top right-handed starting pitcher, but that surely must have been based almost entirely on his winning 16 games because his actual performance wasn't noteworthy at all even accounting for the hitter-friendly nature of the PCL.

Hacker started 29 games and his 4.51 ERA was barely better than the PCL average of 4.78. He managed just 129 strikeouts in 166 innings, walked 62 batters, and allowed opponents to hit .280 with 21 homers. There's really nothing about his performance that stands out in any way aside from the fact that he went 16-8 and the only thing more misguided than judging pitchers on their win-loss record is judging minor-league pitchers on their win-loss record.

And that was his second season at Triple-A. He also had a 4.50 ERA and just 94 strikeouts in 132 innings at Triple-A in 2009, walking 3.4 batters per nine innings while opponents hit .301. He's a 27-year-old pitcher with a 4.52 ERA and mediocre secondary numbers in 301 innings at Triple-A, and while signing that type of guy is perfectly reasonable as organizational depth the Twins' decision to give Hacker a 40-man roster spot confuses me.

Perhaps the Twins reviewed the minor leaguers they'll need to protect from next month's Rule 5 draft and concluded they have 40-man spots to spare, but if signing Hacker means leaving a guy like Kyle Waldrop unprotected it'll be a major mistake. In addition to the underwhelming stats, Ben Badler of Baseball America offered this scouting report on Hacker: "88-92 miles per hour, works both sides of the plate, average slider, stuff very hittable, solid Triple-A-type arm."

• During their final two seasons in the Metrodome the Twins ranked 24th and 25th in spending with payrolls of $57 million and $65 million, but they increased the payroll to slightly over $100 million in their first year at Target Field. That shattered the team record by around $25 million and thanks to better-than-expected revenue from the ballpark Twins president Dave St. Peter told Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune that the payroll will rise again in 2011:

The payroll is going to go up. We don't take it for granted. We're all tremendously appreciative of the support but we also know we need to keep moving forward. We need to keep moving forward on the field, and frankly, we need to keep doing everything possible to make Target Field the best ballpark it can be.

Some of that quote refers to the planned Target Field improvements announced last week, but St. Peter making a clear "the payroll is going to go up" pronouncement suggests that perhaps there's room for another significant bump in spending. Even an increase to $115 million won't suddenly give the Twins a ton of spending room, because the players under team control for 2011 figure to cost about $105 million and that doesn't account for re-signing any free agents.

However, getting into the $115 million range would complete the transition from small-payroll team to large-payroll team, as Christensen notes that just six teams (Yankees, Phillies, Red Sox, Cubs, Mets, Tigers) had an Opening Day payroll that high in 2010. For next year that type of money is needed to simply pay team-controlled guys, but maintaining a top-10 payroll in the future would mean adopting a new view of roster management and free agency involvement.

As a 27-year-old, lifelong Twins fan ... well, that could take some getting used to.

19 Comments »

  1. Your statement “Much like how some people don’t fully appreciate Joe Mauer’s value because they don’t realize how terrible the average catcher is offensively” is valid if the subject were Fantasy Baseball.

    In reality, the Twins are paying Joe the money they are, not only to play Catcher, but to be a #3 hitter. In reality, when teams are on offense the defensive position that the player at bat plays is irrelevant.

    Most MLB Catchers bat at the bottom of the order. Mauer does not. I think it is more meaningful to compare him offensively to the #3 hitters on other teams.

    Comment by Dose of Thunder — November 15, 2010 @ 6:54 am

  2. Good thing he compares well to all hitters.

    Comment by Jeff O — November 15, 2010 @ 7:56 am

  3. #3 hitter in the AL in 2010: .276/.355/.445/.800

    Joe Mauer in 2010: .327/.402/.469/.871

    Comment by Jason w — November 15, 2010 @ 8:52 am

  4. lol the Hacker signing shouldn’t really confuse you Aaron… the Twins organization loves the finesse throwers with hittable stuff that give up a lot of homeruns. He’ll fit perfectly in our 4th spot right between his counterparts Slowey and Baker!

    Wait…. but he walks people too…. he doesn’t K AND he BB’s it up, holyshit, he’s even worse than a Slowey, better make him the number 5.

    Comment by Kurt — November 15, 2010 @ 9:27 am

  5. I understand the concern over Hardy’s health, but I still think he’s worth a 3-year deal. As noted, even with injury last season (and it clearly impacted his ability at the plate when he tried to come back too soon) he was above average offensively at SS and those guys are hard to come by. Add in his superior defense and he’s good value and an important cog for this team.

    There’s a lot of rumors swirling around Pavano, but I’d rather the team spent some of that money on Hardy instead. The Twins have the pitching prospects to replace Pavano; finding a replacement for Hardy is much harder. Moreover, Hardy would be cheaper and no more of an injury risk than Pavano.

    Comment by Josh — November 15, 2010 @ 9:40 am

  6. “Joe Mauer in 2010: .327/.402/.469/.871″

    not bad for a guy who ideally should be hitting 2nd in the Twins lineup

    Comment by Pat — November 15, 2010 @ 9:56 am

  7. I’ll start off by saying sorry, because I’m about to ramble about the payroll for 2012.

    There will be more payroll flexibility after next season with; Cuddyer (10.5) Nathan (11.25) Capps (7?) Hardy (6?) Kubel (5) and Harris (1.75) becoming free agents. That adds up to about 41 million coming off the books.

    I’m sure some will be resigned but if its Cuddyer or Nathan it won’t be for nearly as much as they were making before.

    Baker, Blackburn and Span have a combined 5.25 million in raises in 2012, with 5 other players in arbitration years.

    This might not make sense, but with the payroll raising around 15 million from the current 100, the 41 coming off the books and the roughly 30 added from the 5 arb and 3 player raises. (That might be high or low I’m not sure.) So that makes around 26 million that could be spent in free agents or trades in 2012.

    Comment by PFG — November 15, 2010 @ 10:12 am

  8. Aaron, those Hardy numbers look well within any margin for error on the O side. I’d say he was an average offensive player at SS last year. The lack of durability is an issue. It means that your backup SS will play 40+ games a year (start, not just play). That means that player has to have some value, or you are giving up value for 1/4th of your games…..it’s a big deal if he can’t stay healthy.

    I’d pick up his option for 1 year, and see if he can stay healthy. If he is hurt or bad, oh well, you rolled the dice. If he’s healthy and good, there will be plenty of money in 2012 to pay him, as PFG points out.

    Gotta love that 2 year deal for Harris, ridiculous decision. Just awful.

    Comment by mike wants WINS — November 15, 2010 @ 11:33 am

  9. Mike,

    Hardy’s offensive was also dramatically better in the second half:

    Pre-All Star: 169 PA: .226-.268-.340-.607
    Post-All Star: 206 PA: .304-.363-.442-.805

    Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but maybe he just needed time to get situated on a new team in a new league against new pitchers? In the second half he was healthy, he was dramatically better than the average at his position both offensively and defensively, and he was one of the few right-handed bright spots in a lefty-heavy lineup.

    Given that the Twins are going to be lefty-heavy next year and that they might have a huge hole at 2B (relying on Alexi Casilla to give 90% of Hudson’s production is risky given his inconsistent career), it really seems imperative that if the Twins are indeed no longer a small market club, they can’t skimp at BOTH 2B and SS and hope to compete with the big boys out East.

    Please bring J.J. Hardy back!

    Comment by Alex — November 15, 2010 @ 12:17 pm

  10. I think the issue about injuries is just like ERA or wins and losses: there is a lot of luck involved on that, and it does not help much in judging the future of players, unless there is something that it is suspected to not be fully healed (for example, an elbow that is giving problems and is suspect for TJ). Otherwise, it is just a question of luck. Example, judging according to his 2008 season, Cuddyer was injury prone. He came back in 2009 and was an iron man (This is regardless if you like Cuddyer as a player or not)

    Comment by adjacent — November 15, 2010 @ 1:19 pm

  11. Sign Hardy and trade Delmon for Greinke.

    Comment by Peter — November 15, 2010 @ 2:01 pm

  12. You are welcome to judge Hardy based on his rate production and maybe you determine that he is not worth the money on the table, but this sentiment about him being injury prone is ridiculous. In 2006 he had a pretty serious ankle injury that ended his season as he required surgery on his tendon. He then completed the 2007, 2008 and 2009 seasons without hitting the DL once (not certain of this, but a quick bio did not mention anything in those seasons). In 2010 he had a pretty serious wrist injury that he rushed back from, but was able to avoid surgery.

    It’s not like the man is Ken Griffey Jr. He’s not even Justin Morneau. He’s more like Roy Halladay, where he doesn’t really have nagging injuries, but finds a way to get seriously injured in an on-field incident every 2-3 years.

    Comment by PinkiePinkerton — November 15, 2010 @ 2:19 pm

  13. Pinkie, I was not aware that he was healthy three straight years, I hope you are right. I could have sworn he was unhealthy went sent to AAA last year.

    Alex, I almost typed up the same thing, but then decided not to. I agree, when healthy, he looks legit.

    I’d certainly sign him (and I share your concern over Casilla – which is why I keep typing “trade for Uggla, and live with his bad D”, but that’s not happening).

    Comment by mike wants WINS — November 15, 2010 @ 4:34 pm

  14. Aaron, JoeC reported last week that the Twins were bidding on Hisashi Iwakuma. Given an eight-figure posting fee and probably a mid-seven-figure salary, it’s hard to fit that action into what we know/guess about the payroll situation.

    Do you see something I don’t, is Joe talking nonsense, or should we be anticipating a lot more money in the budget?

    Comment by Tim — November 15, 2010 @ 7:45 pm

  15. Signing Hardy is really a no-brainer. They’re not giving the job to Plouffe, the free agent market isn’t overflowing with SS, making it a very inefficient market. Hardy was a much better player when he returned July 3 from the DL stint. .302/.356/.436. And that is hitting in Target Field. He’s also fun to watch at SS. Now, that shouldn’t factor into Bill Smith’s decision, but I like watching him throw. I would offer him arbitration and then hopefully settle beforehand. Maybe negotiate something long-term mid-season, if that is amenable to both parties.

    Comment by Team Hunt — November 15, 2010 @ 9:42 pm

  16. Sign Hardy and trade Delmon for Greinke.

    Heh. If that could actually happen, I’m sure they’d do it.

    While you’re at it, send Harris, Casilla, and Tolbert to Texas for Feliz.

    Well, it’s not quite that lopsided, but I don’t think even Dayton Moore is that delusional.

    Comment by Son of Shane Mack — November 15, 2010 @ 10:25 pm

  17. Sign Hardy and trade Delmon for Greinke.

    Who let Jim Souhan in here?

    KC is not trading Greinke, and if they do it won’t be to us for Delmon. Besides which, I kinda think we need Delmon’s RH bat. And having Hardy’s RH bat at the bottom the lineup would be nice too, especially since we can count on Gardy playing whomever is at 2B in the 2-hole.

    I can live with a 1-year deal for Hardy, but I do think now is the best time to lock him up for 2-3 years at value. If Hardy hits like he did this season but plays 145 games, he’ll be looking at a big fat contract the Twins probably won’t be able to pay. If so, Trevor Plouffe better be ready…

    Comment by Josh — November 16, 2010 @ 10:12 am

  18. So much for Uggla. The Braves paid nothing for him. I don’t get it at all.

    Comment by mike wants wins — November 16, 2010 @ 8:48 pm

  19. I would bet that Hardy will be back in a Twins uniform for 2011, than maybe Plouffe will be ready in 2012.
    Hopefully JJ can stay healthy.

    Comment by scot — November 21, 2010 @ 8:29 pm

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