Ever since the Orioles traded away Miguel Tejada prior to the 2008 season, the shortstop position has been one filled with turmoil and turnover. In the three seasons since, the Orioles have started Juan Castro, Alex Cintron, Brandon Fehey, Luis Hernandez, Freddie Bynum, Cesar Izturis, Robert Andino, and Julio Lugo at shortstop. If that list doesn’t make you throw up in your mouth a little bit, nothing short of seeing Kathy Bates naked will. The Orioles have finally decided that they’ve seen enough of the revolving door of replacement level shortstops, and are seriously exploring trades for J.J. Hardy and Jason Bartlett.
J.J. Hardy’s offensive production has taken a bit of a hit the last couple of years, but there are reasons to believe that he can turn it around. First of all, he’s only 28, and only two seasons removed from consecutive 20+ home run campaigns. Two, last year’s power outage (6 home runs, .394 SLG) was due to Target Field’s ability to stifle power hitters. (It was one of the toughest parks to hit a home run in last year.) At home he hit .252/.313/.340, while on the road he hit .282/.326/.422. Moving to a park that’s friendly to extra base hits (like Camden Yards) would likely do a lot of good for a player like Hardy. Defensively, Hardy is smooth with the glove. He has above average range, a good arm, and soft hands. Defensive metrics like UZR, DRS, and Total Zone consistently have him rated above average to elite level. Assuming Hardy can regain his offensive prowess and stay healthy, he could be a 4.0 WAR player for the Orioles.
Jason Bartlett seems to be the bigger risk out of the two players. While Bartlett is certainly an upgrade at SS for the Orioles, he comes with his own set of baggage. Fresh off of a 4.9 WAR campaign in 2009, Bartlett was poised to prove his season wasn’t a fluke (.389 wOBA, +28.2 wRAA). Unfortunately for Bartlett and the Rays, he regressed back to the hitter he was prior to 2009—a light hitting player with little power and average on base skills. In the past, that was ok because defense is where Bartlett provided the bulk of his value. In 2010, his defense became somewhat of a liability. The advanced defensive metrics showed less than favorable, albeit somewhat conflicting, results. DRS saw him as average (+2), while Total Zone (-3), and UZR (-10.4) saw him as below average. We can argue all day as to which metric (if any of them) is correct, but that doesn’t change the fact that his defensive abilities have eroded over the past four seasons. (All three metrics indicate a decline.) This trend is unlikely to change as Bartlett will be entering his age-31 season in 2011. In all honesty, it’d probably be best to move Bartlett to a less physically challenging position like second or third base. This way, he might be able to recoup some of the value he lost due to his poor defensive play.
The Orioles would be wise to steer clear of Bartlett, and focus their efforts on acquiring a player who can help them offensively and defensively, like Hardy.