Asked if there was any way to keep both rookie shortstop Alcides Escobar and former starter J.J. Hardy on the roster, Melvin said, "That would be very difficult."Hardy in 2007 and 2008 was one of the top five shortstops in all of baseball. His fielding is excellent, and with 50 homers in two years, he showed exceptional power for a middle infielder.
In other words, bye-bye Hardy. Melvin told me that Hardy's trade value did diminish somewhat with his poor season but added, "There are still teams looking for a shortstop. He's a good player who just had a bad year. J.J. will bounce back."
No doubt, he had a really down year in 2009. In large part, that was a matter of bad luck as his BABIP fell to .264, well below his career .280 rate (including 2009) and way below the 2009 NL average of .299.
He also saw his ISO power fall to .128, compared to his career rate of .166. That's a big drop in raw power. And his strikeout rate jumped to 20.5%, compared to 15.8% career. If a 26-year-old's power and contact rates are both slipping, that means there's a real problem with the hitter's approach (or an injury). His walk rate actually rose to 9.4% from 8.3%, but regardless, he didn't hit very well this year.
On the other hand, in his worst year, he was still a 1.4 wins above replacement player (Guzman's '09 WAR was 0.9 for comparison). His minor league stint was an act of brazen service time manipulation by the Brewers, but whoever acquires him will be the beneficiary, as he spent just enough time in Indianapolis to push back his eligibility for free agency until after the 2011 season.
He had little nagging back and shoulder issues that couldn't have helped. And he's going into his age 27 season, historically the age when a player peaks. In '07 and '08, he was worth 4.5 and 4.9 wins above replacement, a good bit better than anyone on the Nationals not named Zimmerman.
At worst, he'll give Rizzo the ace fielder he's looking for. And surely he's a better option than Jack Wilson or Adam Everett.
So what are the Brewers looking for? Pitching, of course. They have at least two big holes in their rotation, and they can't afford to go after the John Lackeys or Randy Wolfs of this off-season's free agent market.
The Nationals have one guy who could be a good fit for the Brewers, both in terms of need and means: John Lannan. I'm going to get a reputation for hating Lannan, and I don't, but if you could trade straight-up a guy who's been worth 2.8 WAR over the last two seasons for a guy who's been worth 10.8 over the last three, you do it. Forget whether you think Lannan's been pitching over his head or not.
That might not be enough, but if this deal could be made it would be the best buy-low, sell-high deal the Nationals ever made.
Beyond that, the Brewers could use a center fielder, because Mike Cameron is a free agent. Second base is an issue, since Felipe Lopez is a free agent, and do you really go with Rickie Weeks again? They also need a catcher--Jason Kendall's a free agent, and he stinks anyway.
J.J. Hardy for Jesus Flores? Yes. J.J. Hardy for Cristian Guzman? Hell, yes, although Guzman's price isn't right, and no team is likely to trade for him without ever even seeing him play second base. Maybe Flores and Justin Maxwell? Or Flores and Roger Bernadina or Ian Desmond or Danny Espinosa? All those would be good deals for the Nationals.
We also have a plethora of C-level pitching prospects we could offer: Brad Meyers, Aaron Thompson, Ross Detwiler, Craig Stammen, Marco Estrada... All these guys should be on the table and of at least some interest to the Brewers.
Finally, we could take a bad contract off their hands, and the $12.5 million they owe Jeff Suppan for 2010 is pretty bad. I don't care if Suppan never even shows up in DC. If that's the price we pay to get Hardy, that's the kind of deal we should be happy to make, leveraging our big market resources to pluck value from small market teams. And heck, since it appears we're in the market for a crappy veteran anyway, Suppan's no worse than, oh, Livan Hernandez.
Make it happen, Rizzo.