Thursday, December 9, 2010

O's bring back Uehara, are close to acquiring J.J. Hardy

After a flurry of rumors following the Mark Reynolds trade, the Orioles have apparently made two important moves. First, the O's re-signed Koji Uehara to a one-year deal with a vesting option for 2012. At the moment, other contract details haven't been disclosed yet. And second, the O's are very close to trading for J.J. Hardy of the Twins. According to Dan Connolly of The Baltimore Sun (via Orioles Insider), the O's will receive Hardy and infielder Brendan Harris in exchange for two minor leaguers, rumored to be Jim Hoey and Brett Jacobson. If the deal is completed, Hardy would become the everyday shortstop, while Harris would likely be the team's utility infielder.

In his post, Connolly also mentions both players' contract situations:
Hardy in his final year of arbitration after making $5.1 million in 2010. He will be a free agent after the 2011 season. Harris signed a two-year, $3.2 million extension with the Twins after the 2009 season. He is owed $1.75 million in 2011.
Harris (30) might not be with the O's beyond 2011, so that's not a big deal. Hardy (28), on the other hand, may be someone the O's want to keep around for more than one season. The O's probably won't do this, but they could try to work out a multi-year deal with Hardy, buying out his last arbitration year and ensuring that he stays in Baltimore for more than just one season. Or they could take the more likely option, which is to see how much Hardy makes via arbitration, pay him, and see how 2011 plays out before possibly negotiating a future contract. Since Hardy has had his fair share of injuries, neither is really a bad route to take, but the O's would risk repeating their 2010 search for a shortstop if Hardy opts to sign with another team.

With Hardy, the O's will have a shortstop who can both hold his own at the plate and in the field. Cesar Izturis was a solid shortstop for the O's in terms of fielding, but he was dreadful at the plate -- for his career, Izturis has hit .256/.296/.323 with a 4.9 BB%. Hardy, meanwhile, has a career line of .263/.323/.423 with an 8.1 BB%. Those aren't fantastic numbers, but they are better than Izturis's stats, and again, Hardy also plays strong defense. That's definitely an upgrade.

To me, there's only one negative with the two moves, and it isn't trading the often-injured Hoey or 24-year-old Jacobson, who seems like a decent prospect (though 24 is a little old to still be in Single A). Instead, it's that both Uehara and Hardy have previously missed significant time because of injury, which can happen again at any moment. Most O's fans are already familiar with Uehara's previous inability to stay healthy, but his move to the bullpen seems to have eased many of those worries. Hardy, though, dealt with a wrist injury last season that allowed him to play in just 101 games. He has dealt with several other injuries in his career, but it's worth noting that he has still played in at least 100 games for the last four seasons. Still, the O's probably don't want a shortstop who's going to miss 60 games, but it's at least possible that happens. The presence of Harris alleviates some of those worries because of his ability to play shortstop, but he is probably better suited at third base anyway. But regardless of his injury history, Hardy is easily better than Izturis.

Both moves are ones the O's needed to make. They needed a younger, competent shortstop to take over for Izturis, and they needed to at least shore up the bullpen after trading away David Hernandez to acquire Reynolds. The O's may not be done dealing -- they could still use a first baseman, another reliever, maybe another starter, etc. -- but the O's have seemingly made some clever moves so far. Having Hardy and Reynolds on the left side of the infield also presents a significant improvement over anything the O's have had the last few seasons.

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