The Milwaukee Brewers shook up their roster today, sending shortstop JJ Hardy down to the minors and calling up top prospect Alcides Escobar to take his place, and releasing third-baseman Bill Hall. This raises two questions for the Orioles: (1) should they trade for Hardy and (2) should the team sign Hall to take over at third-base for the likely departing Melvin Mora?
(1) JJ Hardy was a 4.9 Wins Above Replacement player last year, and a 4.5 WAR guy the year before that. This year that’s down to 1.5 WAR. His defense is still good (+8.7 UZR), but his offense has fallen off from .283/.343/.478 (.355 wOBA, including SB) to .229/.300/.367 (.294 wOBA). One of the main reasons for the drop is his .258 Batting Average On Balls In Play, though that isn’t too out of character given his 13.3% line-drive rate. He is walking more though (up to 9.3% of the time, which is about average), and showing decent patience at the plate. If Hardy spends at least 20 games in the minors the rest of this year, the team controlling him will have not only 2010 but also 2011 before he’s a free agent.
If you assume going forward that Hardy is half way between how good he was in ’07 and ’08 and how bad he’s been this year, you’ve got yourself a 3 to 3.5 WAR player (and at only 26 years old he should really just be entering his peak). Since arbitration players get about 80% of their value in their third (and fourth) arbitration years, Hardy would provide the team that controls him around $6 M in excess value. [Edit: So, subtracting is sometimes hard. I had the excess value at $11 M originally, so the following trade packages should all be discounted by a fair amount.] To acquire that would cost the Orioles something like Brandon Erbe and a C+/C prospect. [Even just Erbe may be too much after the correction - a slightly lesser pitching prospect then.] If you assume Hardy would be a Type-A free agent at the end of his time, then his value goes up to around $16 M. [$11 M.] Now we’re looking at Jake Arrieta plus maybe a C prospect, or Erbe and a Steven Johnson type guy (plus maybe a C prospect). [Erbe works better now, or Erbe plus a C+/C prospect or just Arrieta at the very highest end if you think Hardy will bounce back a little stronger.] On the other hand, Jeremy Guthrie is also having a down year after two solid seasons. His highs weren’t as high as Hardy’s (and his low this year is lower), but he’s been in the AL while JJ is playing in the (weaker) NL and Jeremy is under team control for longer and is currently cheaper. That seems like it would be a reasonable swap, though I’m pretty sure Andy MacPhail is loath to give up his only (relatively) dependable veteran starter. The Brewers main need is pitching though, so it’s either the veterans that are stabilizing things now or the youngsters that the team is placing their hope of future contention on. I, personally, would be OK with trading Guthrie (but not Arrieta or Erbe) and using some of the money coming off the books this year to sign a better veteran starter to take Jeremy’s place – perhaps John Lackey?
(2) Bill Hall has seen some pretty big drops in value, going from 4.9 WAR in 2006 to 1.7 WAR in ’07, 0.8 WAR in ’08, and only 0.2 WAR this year. His once potent bat is now producing only a .201/.265/.341 line. He walks at a rate that’s a little below average, but strikes out a ton (keeping the BA low) and doesn’t produce enough power to compensate for it. He is an above-average fielding third-baseman though (around +4.5 UZR/150 games), and shouldn’t cost much in the way of a contract (would $1-2 M plus some incentives work?). Even if Hall’s bat bounces back though (and it should to a certain degree), he’d still likely be only around a 1 to 1.5 WAR player. It’s certainly an upgrade over Mora – and on the down-side he’d be an OK back-up all over the place like Ty Wigginton, though with less bat and more glove – but I’d rather try to find at least a league average guy to put over there next year as we wait for Josh Bell to hopefully take over there in the longer term. As Heath over at Dempsey’s Army suggests, Joe Crede (1.8 WAR in ’08 and so far in ’09; very good glove and some power in an overall below average bat – and Wiggy could fill in when Joe’s hurt) would work well in that regard. There are worse things that could happen than the O’s starting 2010 with Bill Hall at third-base, but there are too many better alternatives for me to push for his signing.