It's been pretty obvious for some time now that J.J. Hardy wasn't in the Twins' plans. I knew they were going to trade him, and I knew they weren't going to get anything to speak of in return. In fact, I said as much here last week.
Still, watching it actually happen, via Twitter, was a bit like when you drop something fragile or filled with permanently-staining liquid and just have to watch it fall, as though in slow motion, powerless to stop it. It sucked.
I don't want to go through and analyze the whole thing and point out all the reasons it's so obviously a bad move. David Golebiewski and Aaron Gleeman and SweetSpot's Nick Nelson have already done a great job of that, and it's just depressing.
Instead, I want to focus on one thing in particular: I don't think I remember a single team pretending to try to contend -- at least not since the Twins dealt Matt Lawton in mid-2001 -- who traded away a starting player for whom they had no viable replacement.
No matter what you think of Hardy, you absolutely have to admit that when healthy, he/s at least an average starting shortstop (in fact, he's significantly better than that, but that's not my point here). With Hardy gone, here are the Twins' potential shortstops:
- Tsuyoshi Nishioka: the Japanese import who the Twins will likely wrap up a contract with sometime in the next week, he won a Gold Glove over there at short, but scouts seem to believe that he doesn't have the arm strength to play it over here. The Twins themselves have provided strong indications that they consider him a second baseman. And of course no one has any idea what to expect of his bat.
- Alexi Casilla: as I pointed out in the prior Twins post linked above, Casilla has had basically the equivalent of one good year with the bat and one terrible one. In his career, he's played just 233 innings at short. In nearly 2000 innings at second, though, he's looked awful, and there's no reason to expect him to be anything but even more awful at the harder position on the other side of the bag.
- Matt Tolbert: replacement-level player. He has no business starting the season on a major league team's roster, much less in the lineup.
- Nick Punto: not currently on the team, but you know they want to bring him back. And I think they should...but as a utility guy. I do think he was good enough to start at one time, just barely, but I think that time has probably passed.
- Trevor Plouffe: had a disastrous MLB debut in 2010. Has some power, but also a .316 career minor-league OBP, and hasn't reached that number since 2007, OBPing .308, .313 and .300 in the years since. Some Twins fans seem to think he has a future with the team. Those Twins fans are almost certainly incorrect.
It'd be nice to think the Twins had a plan to go out and get an actual shortstop, but there's nothing there that makes sense. Any potential free agents or trade targets (a) are worse than Hardy and (b) would be more expensive to obtain than Hardy would have been to keep.
So, no, they really do appear to be planning to just go into 2011 with no actual, major-league-quality starting shortstop. It's an interesting tactic for a baseball team; most of those try to put baseball players at nine positions on the diamond, but the Twins have apparently decided that eight is good enough.
And it's worth noting that it really doesn't matter why they made the trade. I assume, as the title suggests, that it was a cost-cutting move...but $7 million isn't all that much money, it's less than Hardy was worth, and a contending team doesn't trade its only starter at a position to save $7 million, and whatever else that $7 million gets you, it's not enough. Maybe it's, as Bill Smith has said, because they wanted to add speed to the lineup; but even if you think that's an acceptable reason, in a vacuum, to make any move (I don't), you don't add speed by jettisoning your slow shortstop in favor of a fast non-shortstop. Maybe they just don't like Hardy's attitude or think he's to injury-prone, but...well, you get the point. No matter what your reason is for getting rid of him, it remains vitally important to actually have a viable replacement. And they don't.
In our podcast earlier this week, I said that I didn't think the White Sox had overtaken the Twins as division favorites just yet, but that it was awfully close; close enough, I think, that the likely 2-3 win drop from the Twins' going from having a shortstop to having a Casilla is more than enough to bridge whatever gap might have still existed.