This could get ugly

Posted by Steve

There’s not much interesting going on with the Brewers right now, but the J.J. Hardy contract situation is quite an exception.  In just a few days (Sept. 1), Hardy will have lost the MLB service time he needed to become a free agent after the 2010 season.

Just to state the obvious quickly:

  • Unless the Brewers recall him before Sept. 1, Hardy will instead be under team control for two more years and won’t be eligible for free agency until after the 2011 season.
  • If this happens, Hardy will most likely be very ticked off.

The Brewers have said that Hardy’s free agent status wasn’t a primary factor in sending him to the minors.  That’s at least somewhat believable, because Hardy’s poor offensive performance did in fact justify the demotion.  However, you’re kidding yourself if you don’t think it will weigh heavily on their decision.

There has been speculation that Hardy’s agent, along with the players union, would cry foul on the Brewers if this was to happen.  I don’t mean to suck up to the team, but I don’t see a strong case against the Brewers.  This is not an instance like the Twins holding down Francisco Liriano while he was dominating AAA hitters because they wanted to delay his MLB service time.  Hardy is not dominating anything.  In fact, he’s not even staying above water.

In all likelihood, the Brewers hoped Hardy would go down to the minors for a couple weeks, relax and get his bat going.  If he had started hitting, they would have called him up by now and this wouldn’t even be an issue.  Problem is, he’s not still not hitting–not even in the minors.  Extremely small sample size acknowledged, but Hardy has hit .216/.259/.412 in Nashville.  How can anyone claim foul play on the Brewers when Hardy hasn’t earned his way back to Milwaukee?

The way I see it, the Brewers have two choices.  Neither one is all that appealing.

The first option would be to call him back up within the next day or two.  He hasn’t earned it, but at least they wouldn’t ruffle any feathers by messing with his free agency.  If they opted not to trade him, he could be brought back as the shortstop next season without any ill will.

The other option is to keep him in Nashville for the remainder of their season (Sept. 7).  Calling him up the day after his free agency is pushed back would be a low blow, and a painfully obvious one at that.  By keeping him there through the end of the AAA season, it sends the message that Hardy still hasn’t performed well enough to earn his MLB spot back.  It keeps the focus on his performance rather than his contract situation.

There still could be negative consequences to this option, even though it’s the one I advocate.  I don’t think Hardy would have a case because of how poorly he hit, but there could still be an issue with the player’s union.  Even assuming nothing comes of that, Hardy may still be pretty angry with the Brewers.  A worst case scenario could see him refusing to play in Milwaukee and demanding a trade.

Many probably disagree with me at this point, but I’d still like to see Hardy as the Brewers’ shortstop in 2010.  Escobar’s potential is apparent, but Hardy is still the better bet to be the better player next year.  My ideal situation is to let Escobar spend 2010 in AAA and make him hit his way up to the big leagues–something he hasn’t done yet.

This dicy situation may make that impossible, however.  If nothing else, it improves his trade value if a team knows they control him for two more years instead of one.  Unfortunately, Hardy’s poorly timed down year probably kickstarted his departure from Milwaukee earlier than everyone would have liked.

———————

EDIT!

Looks like I got this post in just before it was irrelevant, because MLB.com just reported the Brewers intend to leave Hardy in AAA past Sept. 1. I’m very curious to see how this plays out.

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3 responses to “This could get ugly

  1. What does Alcides need to hit to work his way into the lineup? Can he really be expected to better his .298-.353-.409 numbers at AAA? He was also 42-52 on steals. Not saying he should start (or play ahead of Hardy), but hasn’t he at least hit his way to the majors?

  2. I should have been more clear. .298/.353/.409 is a nice line for a shortstop, especially a talented defensive one. But he shouldn’t be expected to do that in MLB next season. Escobar has hit enough to earn this spot right now in a messy situation, but a .762 OPS in AAA isn’t banging down the door to the majors.

    If the Brewers didn’t have Hardy, I could be convinced to just let Escobar play in Milwaukee next season. Since they do have Hardy, who’s a good defensive shortstop himself, I think it makes sense to give Escobar another year in AAA.

    This will probably all be moot, as most believe Hardy will be traded this winter. I was just trying to explain my ideal situation.

  3. Looks like I got this post in just before it was irrelevant, because MLB.com just reported the Brewers intend to leave Hardy in AAA past Sept. 1. I’m very curious to see how this plays out.

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