Startribune.com digital sports editor Howard Sinker used to cover the Twins and now shares season tickets with friends in Section 219 of Target Field. He blogs about baseball from the perspective of a long-time fan who loves the game, doesn’t always believe the hype and likes hearing what others think. Howard sometimes talks about sports with Cathy Wurzer on MPR's Morning Edition.

J.J. Hardy and irrational love

Posted by: Howard Sinker under Twins fans, Twins offense, Twins pitching, Twins transactions Updated: December 10, 2010 - 1:56 PM

I have some trouble reading the baseball blogs during the off-season because, quite frankly, the 200 or so games from the first exhibition until the final out of the World Series is enough to tide me over until the cycle of life begins anew. I bear no malice toward those who keep up their intensity year-round, but I'm not in your club.

I've also noticed, when I do go take a peek, that the dialogue and disagreement seems sharper and more impatient this time of year.

Now, let's talk J.J. Hardy.

Compared to other shortstops, he graded out slightly above average when he was healthy enough to play last season. There were the extended stretches during the first half and the days-here-and-there parts of the second half of the season that added up to 61 games missed with injuries. Having a slightly-above-average shortstop for about 100 games is nice, but when you're looking at parts of your team that can be added or subtracted for 2011 -- the Twins were fortunate to find a market for their slightly above average and frequently banged up shortstop.

If you're of a mind that the Twins need to be about more than just making the playoffs in 2011, I argue you should be of a mind that risks need to be taken.

The Twins are betting that Tsuyoshi Nishioki will be a significant upgrade in the middle infield -- a top-of-the-order presence with more speed and solid defense than Hardy could provide. (Please let him not be the Japanese Nick Punto.)

And the Twins are betting that Alexi Casilla's improved performance when he returned from elbow surgery for the second half of the season -- especially his numbers from late July through the end of August -- is an indication that he had the potential to improve and has the stuff to be a lineup fixture. (The Twins were burned by this line of reasoning when they tried to install Casilla at second base in 2009, but does that mean you give up on him forever and ever?)

What did you think Hardy was going to bring? A(nother) middle-of-the-rotation starter? A right handed bat with power? Wasn't going to happen. The Rays are about to trade Jason Bartlett to San Diego for two relievers with a bit of major league time and minor-league numbers that wouldn't get you excited.

We liked Hardy because he solved a problem. Now, we should expect Nishioka to be an even better solution.

I think some people also liked Hardy because it allowed them to say, "We'll at least, the Twins got him and Jon Rauch 'for' Santana."

Now -- with Rauch a free agent, too -- the Twins have the unknowns Brett Jacobson and Jim Hoey "for" Santana.

But it's time to get over the Santana thing in the same way that it's time to stop looking at Delmon Young in the prism of that deal.

And one more thing. The Twins got Baltimore to take Brendan (Happy) Harris, the utility infielder/political science major whose on-field demeanor was of a man who felt the world was conspiring against him at every turn -- or umpire's call. Harris, a self-proclaimed conservative, should at least be able to talk some sense into the head of his new teammate -- the birther Luke Scott. (Good luck with that, Happy!)

Back to the important stuff:

The Twins need to hold bullpen auditions this spring and they need to figure out who plays where in the middle infield. They need to make sure that Danny Valencia is most of the player that he was during the second half of last season and that Justin Morneau's health allows the Twins to talk Mauer/Morneau in the same way the Tigers will tout Cabrera/Martinez and the White Sox their upgrade of Dunn/Konerko.

They need to make a call on Carl Pavano and, even if they sign him, still will need to be the team willing to get next summer's Cliff Lee as a postseason booster shot.

Then there's Joe Nathan and the four outfielders and the hope that Francisco Liriano's mound presence in big games catches up with his season's statistics.

In other words, you can really drive yourself crazy thinking about the wants and needs and moves and such. I recommend chillin' for now because, come the spring, we'll find no shortage of stuff to get worked up about.

 

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