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Monday, November 30, 2009

The JJ Hardy/Carlos Gomez Swap

Like most Twins fans, I was pretty happy with Bill Smith's decision to send Carlos Gomez to the Brewers for JJ Hardy. If Hardy bounces back to even 80% of his 2008 season, he's a major upgrade at shortstop for a team that hasn't had a quality season from a shortstop in over five years.

Unlike most Twins fan, I'm a big Carlos Gomez fan. His defense is sensational, and with an extremely fly-ball heavy staff, his defense was far more valuable than the casual fan (or the manager, for that matter) realizes. Since arriving in Minnesota, Delmon Young has been incorrectly labeled the future star while Gomez was always considered the project. Over the last two seasons, Young has been 30 runs below replacement level. That takes into account both his offense and defense, and being a mediocre offensive player with terrible defense over the last two seasons will lead to that terrible number.

What the casual fan doesn't seem to realize is that, as bad as Gomez has looked at the plate the last two seasons, he's been 30 runs better than a replacement level center fielder. Over the last two seasons, Gomez has been FIFTY runs better than Delmon Young. Of course, the Brewers undoubtedly valued Carlos Gomez extremely high and likely wanted nothing to do with Young.

Despite my original excitement about the deal, as more time passes I'm getting more and more worried. First, and foremost, it's Bill Smith making the trade and his track record with transactions has been terrible to this point. Second, as reports emerge about what Milwaukee was offered from other teams and what they countered with, it's very clear they value Gomez extremely high. Over the last few weeks reports have emerged that the Brewers reportedly passed on Matt Capps or Ryan Doumit from Pittsburgh, top prospect Michael Bowden from Boston, and they requested either Adam Lind or Travis Snider from Toronto.

Is it possible that for the second time in 3 years, a deal that looks good on paper for the Twins is a huge mistake? Smith was able to convince the local fan base two off-seasons ago that Matt Garza was a huge headcase and needed a change of scenery, Jason Bartlett was an error-prone shortstop and Delmon Young was the next big superstar in the league. Needless to say, that deal has become one of the worst trades in the last decade, and regardless of the rest of Smith's tenure, he likely will always be remembered for that colossal mistake.

On the other hand, Brewers GM Doug Melvin has proven to be a good judge of talent. Milwaukee traded Matt LaPorta two seasons ago to land CC Sabathia, and it was widely considered a win-win trade. LaPorta was expected to rise to stardom as soon as this season, but he struggled in his slight major league time. Obviously it's worth noting that LaPorta is still young and is hardly a bust at this point, but if his short stint in the big leagues showed anything it's that he likely will never become the impact, middle of the order hitter everyone thought he would. In my opinion, LaPorta will become a poor man's Adam Dunn. Think a better version of Jack Cust.

My biggest concern with this trade is that Hardy continues to struggle next season, and ultimately the Twins decide it's not worth paying Hardy upwards of $6 million in 2011 and non-tender him. That would mean they've given up on Gomez for a poor season of JJ Hardy. That also means the team is locked into Delmon Young, which after next season I hope people will finally realize he arrived here with way too much hype, and he likely will never come close to living up to it. I fully expect Young to be basically the same player he's been the past two seasons, and his biggest fans will continue to point to his hot streaks as proof he's finally breaking out.

I'm still cautiously optimistic that Bill Smith can finally get the upper hand on an off-season trade and am hoping JJ Hardy can become a big part of the 2010 and 2011 Twins teams. That said, I do believe Carlos Gomez is going to emerge as a top 10 center fielder in the near future, and I fully expect the Brewers pitching staff to be much improved with Gomez replacing an aging Mike Cameron in center field.

Just remember, when you're watching Gomez almost nightly on Baseball Tonight that the Twins once again gave up a young promising player away to fill what appeared to be a need. Hopefully, unlike the Delmon Young trade, JJ Hardy will come over and produce making the loss of Gomez far less painful.

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