COMMENTARY | My friend Margaret is the biggest Baltimore sports fan I know, so of course she let me know that Baltimore Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy won another Gold Glove on Tuesday. She also added that Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Troy Tulowitzki, and Jimmy Rollins are the only other active shortstops with two Gold Gloves.
Sounds like Hardy is in pretty elite company.
In general, I like the Orioles. Like the Minnesota Twins, they play in a small city and have suddenly had their fair share of success despite playing in a division with big spenders like the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. I am upset, however, that shortstop J.J. Hardy is wearing orange.
Minnesota traded center fielder Carlos Gomez, the only valuable part of the Johan Santana trade with the New York Mets, to the Milwaukee Brewers for Hardy in November of 2009. It was a smart trade from the Twins' perspective. Denard Span eventually became the everyday center fielder, Ben Revere was capable of taking over if he went down, and they had just drafted a blue-chip prospect, Aaron Hicks, who also played center.
Hardy wasn't the player the Twins were expecting after arriving from Milwaukee. He spent some time on the disabled list, only hit .268/.320/.394 with six home runs and wasn't at his best defensively. With Japanese superstar Tsuyoshi Nishioka on the way, Twins management packaged Hardy with utility infielder Brenden Harris and $500,000 cash and shipped him to the Orioles for minor league pitchers Brett Jacobson and Jim Hoey.
That's right, Minnesota paid Baltimore to take Hardy! Not only that, but they also received jetsam and flotsam in return. It's like offering your steak dinner to the person next to you at a restaurant and then saying, "Hey, here's some money for another meal, I'll go and wash your empty plates for you." Maybe they were just being Minnesota nice. If so, they took it way too far.
Nishioka flopped and Hardy has gone on to hit at least 20 home runs in the next three years and win two Gold Gloves. Hoey is out of the league and Jacobson had a 9.00 ERA in Triple-A last year.
Minnesota got hustled -- that's already been established. But the more important takeaway is that struggling players that have shown promise shouldn't be immediately cast aside.
Fans have turned on two recent Twins draft picks -- Trevor Plouffe and Chris Parmelee -- because of their performance. Plouffe (No. 20 overall, 2004) hit 24 home runs two years ago, but struggles to hit righties and is a sub-par defensive third baseman. Parmelee (No. 20 overall, 2006) can hit the long ball and plays the ball off of the right field wall well, but struggles to hit for average and does not cover much ground in the outfield.
It's easy for Twins fans to become irate with team management, which continually puts these two players in the lineup and gives them an opportunity even when they are struggling. If Plouffe is let go and hits 30 home runs for another team, however, Twins fans will be just as fast to criticize the team for trading him away. Furthermore, Parmelee put up virtually the same numbers that Plouffe did when he was 25, and Plouffe was 26 when he had his breakout year.
The Orioles probably aren't giving Hardy back to Minnesota, as Margaret points out to me every time his name comes up, but the Twins have a chance to get them back. Current shortstop Pedro Florimon was claimed off of waivers from Baltimore. He has been solid defensively, connecting with second baseman Brian Dozier to turn more double plays than any other combination in baseball, but has struggled with the bat.
There was a stretch where Florimon was golfing balls into the right-field seats, but he spent most of the year as the No. 9 hitter and barely hit above .200 with inconsistent home runs. If Florimon can improve at the plate, however, it would go a long way to allow fans to forgive management for trading Hardy.
It's easy to be impatient with the Twins, especially when a player is struggling, but there is a method to their madness. It's much smarter to develop a player and give him time to prove himself than trade him away for nothing and hope that an outsider can come in and dominate that position.
The Hardy trade is a prime example of that.
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