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.
The Rays started Sergio Romo on back-to-back days and if that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. Romo, of course, was the star closer for the Giants for a while, helping them win the World Series in 2012 and ’14. He’s been a full-time reliever dating back to 2006, when he was at Single-A.
In an effort to prevent lefty Ryan Yarbrough from facing the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup (Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, Justin Upton), Romo started Saturday’s game, pitching the first inning before giving way to Yarbrough in the second. Romo struck out the side, in fact. The Rays went on to win 5-3.
The Rays did it again on Sunday afternoon, starting Romo. This time, he got four outs before giving way to Matt Andriese. Romo walked two without giving up a hit while striking out three. The Angels managed to win 5-2 however.
Despite Sunday’s win, Cozart wasn’t a happy camper with the way the Rays used Romo. Via Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Cozart said, “It was weird … It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion … It’s spring training. That’s the best way to explain it.”
It’s difficult to see merit in Cozart’s argument. It’s not like the Rays were making excessive amounts of pitching changes; they used five on Saturday and four on Sunday. The games lasted three hours and three hours, 15 minutes, respectively. The average game time is exactly three hours so far this season. I’m having trouble wondering how else Cozart might mean the strategy is bad for baseball.
It seems like the real issue is that Cozart is afraid of the sport changing around him. The Rays, like most small market teams, have to find their edges in slight ways. The Rays aren’t doing this blindly; the strategy makes sense based on their opponents’ starting lineup. The idea of valuing on-base percentage was scoffed at. Shifting was scoffed at and now every team employs them to some degree. Who knows if starting a reliever for the first three or four outs will become a trend, but it’s shortsighted to write it off at first glance.