A few days ago someone asked if there were any trade scenarios to bring a bat to Baltimore. Well, ask and ye shall receive. However, this time it isn’t just prognostication or posturing. Word has come out that the Orioles are currently in trade talks with the Rays and Twins for Jason Bartlett and J.J. Hardy, respectively. Either move would upgrade the Orioles offensively at shortstop (then again, signing a mannequin would get about the same production as Cesar Izturis), but which would be the better signing? It depends on what the Orioles have to give up, and which player has more upside. Should the Orioles look outside the organization for a shortstop? Let’s take a look.
Jason Bartlett has been given the most attention so far, with talks centering around a swap of David Hernandez and the 31-year old shortstop. The move makes sense for Tampa on a number of levels, not merely that Reid Brignac is waiting in the wings to take over at short. Tampa also looks to lose most of its bullpen, as Joaquin Benoit has already latched on with Detroit and Rafael Soriano looks to be a hot commodity as a closer. They desperately need a power arm in the bullpen, and Hernandez has a lot of value right now. He is capable of starting (and has hinted that he may want to return to the rotation), has improved greatly over the past season, and has genuine closer potential should he stay in the bullpen. On the other side of things, Bartlett is a solid offensive threat historically for a shortstop. However, he is also coming off of the worst offensive season since 2005, and has only hit more than ten home runs in a season once. That one time was in 2009, when he hit .320 with 14 home runs for his best season as a professional.
In short, Jason Bartlett-David Hernandez would be a trade of players on opposite ends of their career arcs, and would greatly strengthen a divisional opponent. If Bartlett was more of a power threat I would understand the move, but I don’t think the risk merits the reward.
J.J. Hardy is an intriguing case. He is stronger defensively than Bartlett, and when healthy is capable of hitting 25 home runs and hitting in the .280’s. The problem is, he hasn’t been healthy on a consistent basis since 2007. The Orioles could roll the dice and hope that Hardy, who is 28 and should be entering the prime of his career, will stay healthy and be a steady shortstop. They also wouldn’t have to face the Twins on a regular basis and deal with whoever they had to trade over to Minnesota. This would come down to what the Orioles would have to give up to acquire him, but I wouldn’t mind taking a chance on him. Then again, Minnesota did just that with Hardy after he left Milwaukee, and has rewarded them with trips to the DL ever since.
If the Orioles are looking for a stopgap in free agency, Orlando Cabrera is making his annual trip at the age of 36, coming off of a down year with Cincinnati. This would be the Garrett Atkins move of 2011, which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing if the price is low enough and he can just avoid playing worse than he did this year. O’s fans should be grateful if they had a shortstop who hit .263. Also working for Cabrera is the fact that despite moving around almost annually, he has been remarkably consistent: prior to this season he hadn’t hit below .280 since 2005, and as recently as 2009 Cabrera went .280 with a .318 on base percentage in a pitcher-friendly park in Oakland. They could certainly do worse for one year.
A bigger name in the free agent market is Juan Uribe of the World Series Champion San Francisco Giants. I discussed him in my previous post on corner infield help, but he is more than anything a natural shortstop. Uribe would be a more consistent home run threat than any of the aforementioned options at shortstop, but he has hit better than .252 just once since 2005 and I doubt he would want to come to the Orioles when all signs point to San Francisco retaining him. And no, the Orioles will never, ever sign Derek Jeter. Jeter wants $22 million a year. The Orioles can maybe afford 1/3rd of that on their shortstop next season. Next question.
All told, the options at shortstop aren’t actually dismal offensively, if only because they are being compared to possibly the worst hitter in the major leagues. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Izturis was retained, but MacPhail getting on the phone shows that the team is clearly not content with their current production.