J.J. Hardy rejoined the Brewers yesterday following a 20-day stint at Triple-A that was just long enough to push back his free agency for an extra season.
While he was gone the team handed his old job to 22-year-old prospect Alcides Escobar and upon his return Hardy admitted that he’s probably not long for Milwaukee:
Not that I want to be traded. That’s not the case at all. But when you hear about two years [before free agency] now, obviously it makes me more valuable in a trade. If that’s what they’re doing, there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it.
I think it just kind of makes sense. You’ve got Escobar ready. You’ve been waiting on Escobar for a couple of years now. There’s been all the trade rumors. I guess it’s something I’ll find out or worry about in the off-season.
Hardy strongly denied speculation that he brought on the demotion to Triple-A by refusing a move to third base, calling those rumors “total B.S.” However, he did express a clear desire to remain a shortstop going forward:
Until there’s no other teams out there that like me as a shortstop or like [Escobar] as a shortstop, I think we both want to be shortstops. I see myself as a shortstop, and I’m sure he sees himself as a shortstop. If both of us are going to be in the big leagues, we’ll have to be on separate teams. It’s just a rare situation.
Hardy has always graded out well defensively at shortstop, producing a positive Ultimate Zone Rating in each of his five seasons for a cumulative mark of 11.1 runs above average per 150 games. Beyond that, whether his offense bounces back to pre-2009 levels or this year’s funk is a sign of things to come his bat will obviously be a bigger asset at shortstop (average OPS of .719) than third base (average OPS of .757).
As a 27-year-old shortstop with a good glove who’s hit .268/.325/.445 over the past three seasons Hardy should be a popular trade target this offseason. Look for the Brewers to swap him for some pitching.
To the surprise of, well, very few, the Mariners didn’t make the cut for the postseason this year. While they threw their hats in the ring for a wild card berth, their pitching staff just couldn’t stay healthy, from the handful of pitchers who contracted season-ending injuries in spring training to Felix Hernandez‘s shoulder bursitis to structural damage in Hisashi Iwakuma‘s right shoulder. Left-hander James Paxton missed 79 days with a lingering head cold, strained left forearm and pectoral strain. Heading into the 2018 season, the lefty told MLB.com’s Greg Johns that he plans to “nerd out big-time” in order to prepare for a healthy, consistent run with the club.
So far, Johns reports, that entails a new diet and workout program, hot yoga sessions and blood testing. “I just think there’s more I can do,” Paxton said. “I haven’t done the blood testing before. Finding out if there’s something I don’t know about myself. It’s just about learning and trying to find what works for me.”
When healthy, the 28-year-old southpaw was lights-out for the Mariners. He helped stabilize the front end of the rotation with a 12-5 record in 24 starts and supplemented his efforts with a 2.98 ERA, 2.4 BB/9 and 10.3 SO/9 through 136 innings. Despite taking multiple trips to the disabled list, he built up 4.6 fWAR — the most wins above replacement he’s compiled in any season of his career to date. Had he not been felled by a pectoral injury in mid-August — one that came with a five-week trip to the disabled list — the club might have been been able to make a bigger push for the playoffs.
Of course, even if Paxton manages to stay healthy next season, the Mariners still have the rest of the rotation to worry about. They cycled through 17 starters in 2017 and tied the 2014 Rangers with 40 total pitchers over the course of the season. Per GM Jerry Dipoto, their top four starters (Paxton, Hernandez, Iwakuma, and Tommy John candidate Drew Smyly) only contributed 17% of total innings pitched, just a tad below the 40% average. Finding adequate big league arms and compensating for injured aces (both current and former) will be tough. Still, getting a healthy, dominant Paxton back on the mound for 30+ starts would be a huge get for the team — whether or not the postseason is in their future next year.