After the 2009 season, the Twins were riding high. They had just won the vaunted AL Central and were looking to improve the team by dealing from depth. They had four solid outfielders in Denard Span, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel and Delmon Young. They also had an extremely talented train wreck who was a major part of a blockbuster trade just two years prior. Why not shore up a position that had been an issue for years and years and years and years and years and years and...
The Trade: BREAKDOWN!
Hardy only played 101 games in a Twins uniform. He was injured and slow during his one season with the Twins. However, he was a good defensive shortstop, just as he had always been and has been ever since. The Twins didn't like what they saw in their short view of Hardy and shipped him off after the 2010 season (more on that next week).
For two and half seasons with the Brewers, Gomez looked a lot like the player he was with the Twins. He was excellent in center, but maddening at the plate. Then, in the second half of 2012, Gomez broke out. He started hitting for power and he actually posted an OBP over .300! He carried that success into 2013, and has looked like a potential superstar with his combination of power, speed and defense.
How did I feel at the time?
I liked this trade quite a bit. Hardy was brutal in 2009, but had been a really productive player in 2007 and 2008. Gomez was really fun to watch one minute and extremely frustrating to watch every other minute. As much as I had high hopes for Gomez, I was happy that the Twins seemed to be addressing one of the biggest holes in franchise history.
Why make the trade?
This ESPN.com article outlines things in clear terms:
"This was a good fit," Smith said. "We had one too many outfielders and they had one too many shortstops, so it worked out for both teams."
Seriously? They had too many shortstops? As a Twins fan, that makes me just want to puke all over your head, sir.
Hardy was looking for a change of scenery, after being sent to the Minors during the 2009 season:
"I definitely knew I was going to get traded once I got sent down," Hardy said. "Once I got the call this morning, I was pretty excited about it."
It was reasonable to expect that Hardy would rebound after a poor 2009. He had been productive in the two previous seasons and he was hitting that famed "age 27 season."
I'm not even sure the Twins considered it "giving up on Gomez" anyway:
"To give up Carlos Gomez, and four years of control with the player, it's important to get somebody that we're going to have for more than a year," Smith said.
It was important to get someone who they would have for more than one year. Yes. That is true. You should have followed that advice, Bill Smith.
It seemed that Hardy was going to be the shortstop for the foreseeable future. The Brewers may have been giving up on Hardy more than the Twins were giving up on Gomez. The Twins were willing to take the chance on Hardy:
"He's got a strong arm. He's got good range and he's got power," Twins general manager Bill Smith said. "He had a bad year this year. We've talked to a lot of people and we have a lot of opinions in our organization. We're all on board that this was a good acquisition for us."
What is odd is that the perception of Hardy changed after one season. Of course, two bad years is certainly more concerning than just one.
Gomez was looking for a chance to play every day:
"Last year, I can't do nothing about it, because I didn't play every day," Gomez said. "You don't play every day, it's tough."
Gomez played fewer than 100 games in his first two seasons with Milwaukee. Of course, he was awful offensively, so he didn't earn the playing time that he wanted. Milwaukee's patience with Gomez does seem to have finally paid off.
This was a smart trade. You have to separate it from the next J.J. Hardy trade. If you just look at this as it is, it was a smart move. The Twins had outfield depth (although much of that depth would be gone very soon) and they had needed a shortstop for decades. Literally decades. I'm not sure how you feel about Pat Meares and Cristian Guzman, but Hardy was the best and most talented shortstop that the Twins have had since Greg Gagne.
Some will criticize the Twins for how they handled Gomez. Many feel that he was forced into the MLB lineup to justify the Johan Santana trade. He wasn't ready for the Majors, and could have really used delicious seasoning in AAA. I don't have a huge problem with pushing Gomez. He was certainly raw at the plate, but he was ready for center field. As bad as Gomez hit, he still produced 2.1 WAR in his first season with the Twins.
The following season was not good. Gomez made such poor contact that he was relegated to a more part-time role. A part-time role is not really ideal for a 23-year-old with raw, developing tools. The Twins decided to see what they could get for Gomez, rather than use at-bats developing him. They bought low on a quality shortstop and filled a need while jettisoning a frustration. Gomez has blossomed, but it took a very long time. I do wonder how Twins fans would feel about this trade had the Twins simply kept Hardy. We'll never know. Unless we invent time travel and decide to use it for the most trivial of all reasons.
Who won the WAR?
Gomez with the Brewers: 11.8 WAR
Hardy with the Twins: 1.2 WAR
WAR won by the Brewers! Ouch. (Since this trade, both players have produced exactly 11.8 WAR.)
One Sentence Summary
This trade was not a mistake, but it did directly lead to a huge mistake just one year later.