And I do mean extended.  Grab a soda and relax for this one.

Here I thought I would be so ready for the Hardy trade.  I had my stats on hand, and was ready to get up early and check often so that the moment it went down, I would have something meaningful up.  And then they go and make the deal after midnight.  You’re sneaky, Andy.  And very difficult.  The Orioles have their shortstop, one with more upside than Jason Bartlett and a longer potential future with the club- if they can keep him healthy.  J.J. Hardy goes to the DL about as often as Mark Reynolds strikes out.  Well maybe not that often, but you get the idea.  But the O’s also got their insurance policy for Hardy in Brendan Harris.  The Orioles will send minor leaguers Jim Hoey and Brett Jacobson to the Twins, which isn’t all that much to sacrifice as I doubt either one would have been joining the major league club anytime soon.

J.J. Hardy certainly has an injury history, one that certainly reduced his value to interested clubs.  Further lowering his value was the fact that the Twins had to unload him, given their likely acquisition of Japanese shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka.  That said, I have been far more interested in acquiring Hardy than I ever was about Jason Bartlett.  Hardy joined the Twins in 2010 with high hopes to recapture the success that gave him 26 and 24 home runs in the 2007 and 2008 seasons, the high water mark coming with a 2007 All-Star appearance.  The 2001 second-round pick would have a disastrous 2009, one that sent him to the minors in July and shipped off after hitting just .229.  In Minnesota his injury concerns would continue, allowing him to play in just 101 games with a trip to the DL lasting the entire month of June.  If one is looking for a shortstop to play 162 games, Hardy is not your guy.

However, when he is on the field, he isn’t a liability.  Defensively he has a tremendous glove, but his range leaves much to be desired.  Nevertheless, Hardy still accumulated an 8.1 UZR, good for third highest among AL shortstops.  Had he played the entire season, his UZR would have risen to 13.6, far and away best in the AL.  Izturis’ UZR?  It fell from 9.1 a year ago to 5.1 in 2010, and would have just been 5.8 had he reached 150 games.  One can argue that 2010 was just a bad year for Cesar, but it doesn’t help the case that Izturis must be retained for his defense.

With his bat, I won’t try to pretend that Hardy will replicate his performances from 2007 and 2008.  Even if he does as well as he did in 2010 (.268/6/.320), he will be a major upgrade over Cesar Izturis offensively.  So… a minor defensive downgrade and a definite offensive upgrade?  The Orioles could do much worse at shortstop.  If Baltimore can resign Izturis as a backup, then even if Hardy goes on the DL they will have the same player they would have wound up with otherwise.  Izturis might find an opportunity for a full-time position, but if so, more power to him.  In my opinion, the Orioles should feel comfortable at the position with Hardy.  At 28 years old, there is even a possibility that Hardy could stay there for several years until Manny Machado is prepared to take the leap to the majors.

In addition to Hardy, Baltimore also receives Brendan Harris, a utility infielder they had been looking for, particularly as insurance in case Hardy or Brian Roberts land on the DL.  The 30-year old former 5th round pick has seen his numbers decline dramatically over the past 4 seasons, from a year in which he hit .286 with 12 home runs with the Rays in 2007 to last season where he played in just 43 games, hitting .157 with a lone home run.  Like Hardy, hopes will be that Harris can recapture his 2007 and 2008 form (I would even take his 2009 form) and become a regular contributor. Either way, the Orioles would have had to grab a utility infielder anyway (especially one with experience at every infield position), and Harris fits the bill.  If I’m Robert Andino, I might be backing my bags right now, either for Norfolk or another club.

So what about Jacobson and Hoey?  Brett Jacobson is certainly the jewel of this deal from the Minnesota side.  The 24 year old had a breakout season with Frederick last year, pitching to a 2.79 ERA and an 8-1 record after struggling the year before.  While he was a valuable reliever, he had a chance of being seized in the Rule 5 draft, so Baltimore likely wouldn’t have been able to hold onto him regardless.  He will be missed, but with the odds of losing him to Rule 5 and the odds that a late-blooming Single-A pitcher will be a successful reliever in the majors, it isn’t much to sacrifice for a major league talent.

Since Hoey’s all too soon call-up in 2007 in which he was tasked with rescuing a tattered bullpen and pitched to a 7.30 ERA in 24.2 innings, he has been struggling to regain the form that made him a prized prospect.  Like so many Baltimore prospects, being rushed up so early may have stunted his development, not to mention a shoulder surgery that kept him out of 2008 altogether.  He has bounced back decently well, finishing the season in Norfolk with a 3.38 ERA in 31 innings.  There is a chance that he could yet be a contributor to a major league club, but at 28 years old, one wonders how much upside he had left.  I would be surprised if the Twins, badly in need of relief help and on a very tight budget, didn’t make use of Hoey this season and perhaps even Jacobson if he performs well at New Britain, their Double-A affiliate.

While this trade locks down the shortstop position, it raises increased concerns about the relief pitching.  The Orioles have now handed away three promising minor league relievers and one major league reliever/starter.  They might not be hurt as badly this season by those losses, but in future years the front office will have to reload the relief pitching in the farm system.  In the meantime, the signing of Kevin Gregg and other established relievers becomes a priority, as Baltimore will need reliable options for 2011.  Luckily for them, this is a good year for free agent relievers, with Scott Downs, Rafael Soriano, and a host of type B and non-compensation players on the market.  As much as I have lambasted the Orioles for their past deals (or potential deals), this one sets Baltimore up in a good position entering the Rule 5 draft, provided they can sign at least one, preferably two, bullpen arms.