© 2008 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.
12/07/08 9:00 PM EST
Hardy on edge as Meetings begin
Shortstop hopes to remain with Brewers despite trade rumors
By Adam McCalvy / MLB.com
LAS VEGAS -- Brewers shortstop J.J. Hardy had a message for general manager Doug Melvin & Co. as Milwaukee's contingent prepared to stroll the lobby of the Bellagio this week: Please don't trade me. "I want to be a Brewer," Hardy said from his Tempe, Ariz., home. "If something happens, then I'll deal with that, but I've always wanted to be a Brewer." Hardy would be happy to read published comments from Melvin on Sunday indicating he wants his shortstop to stay put. But Hardy nonetheless figures to see his name in print beginning Monday, when the baseball world converges in Las Vegas for the wheeling and dealing -- and the rumor mongering -- that dominates the annual Winter Meetings. The Brewers arrived in Vegas in something of a holding pattern, waiting for word from representatives of free-agent pitcher CC Sabathia as to whether Milwaukee's bid to retain the left-hander -- reportedly five years and $100 million -- was good enough. That answer will help dictate the rest of the offseason for a team that needs a quality starting pitcher if Sabathia moves on, plus left-handed bats and a reliever or two -- possibly a closer -- regardless of Sabathia's decision.
Melvin planned to meet with Sabathia's representatives on Monday, at which time agent Greg Genske could ask Melvin to increase the offer to six years. It's unclear whether the budget-conscious Brewers could meet that demand, and assuming Sabathia accepts the Yankees' riches or finds a suitable offer from one of his home-state teams in California, Melvin may have to consider trading some of his young hitters to fill other holes.
Enter names like Prince Fielder, Milwaukee's 24-year-old star first baseman whose salary is about to skyrocket in arbitration and could be flipped for a top pitcher. Or Hardy, 26, whose cost will bump up from the $2.65 million he earned last season because he's arbitration-eligible for the second time.
Hardy has been churned around the rumor mill already this winter, because he's still two seasons shy of free agency, because the Brewers have a prospect -- the slick-fielding Alcides Escobar -- who plays Hardy's position, and most of all because All-Star shortstops are in high demand.
Melvin has said he is not "shopping" Hardy, a sentiment he echoed in Sunday's editions of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
"I don't want to give up either one of our shortstops," Melvin told the newspaper. "That's a premium position. J.J. has two years left [before he's a free agent]. It's just too hard to find shortstops. ... If we went with Escobar, he might struggle for a year or so offensively."
Melvin is known as a straight-shooter, so it is unlikely that those comments were merely intended to boost Hardy's perceived value with other teams. Still, the Orioles, Tigers, Twins, Dodgers and Blue Jays are all in the market for a starting shortstop, and the Cardinals and perhaps the Giants were on that list before making moves last week. Others could join. The Braves, for example, have reportedly talked to the Padres about a trade for Jake Peavy that would include Atlanta shortstop Yunel Escobar. The Pirates have been in talks with several teams about veteran Jack Wilson.
"I've asked my agent about it, and he says what a lot of other people say, that the Brewers would be stupid not to at least listen to other offers," Hardy said.
Melvin said only one team had made a formal trade proposal for Hardy, but Melvin brushed it off after that club offered a "fifth-starter type."
"I have all kinds of family and friends calling me going, 'Hey, you're going to be a Twin?' Or, 'You're going to be a Brave?'" Hardy said. "My only answer to them is, 'I don't know!' It's been like that pretty much the whole winter.
"I mean, I guess any of those could make sense if teams are looking for a shortstop and they want to give up pitching. I understand that's what the Brewers are looking to do."
Some forward-thinking Brewers fans have even wondered if the Brewers might trade Hardy for a pitcher and pursue free-agent shortstop Rafael Furcal, who rejected a four-year offer from the A's on Friday. Furcal is a switch-hitter who could bat leadoff, allowing the Brewers to drop second baseman Rickie Weeks lower in the order, where he might be a better fit.
But Melvin said last week that the Brewers had not expressed interest in Furcal, and he balked at Furcal's asking price.
Hardy, even with Melvin's comments on Sunday, finds himself in the same uncertain situation that Brewers pitcher Chris Capuano and infielder Bill Hall were in last year at this time. Neither of those players was ever dealt, despite Winter Meetings rumors that they were being discussed.
Hardy has been passing the time with his usual winter workout regimen and said he had added 12 pounds of strength since season's end. Hardy typically loses weight during the baseball season.
He spent last week at Maryvale Baseball Park, where prospects are taking part in the team's Winter Development Program. Hardy and Brewers outfielder Corey Hart, both Phoenix-area residents, took part in a question-and-answer session with the younger players on Thursday, "and basically told them how lucky they were to be there," Hardy said.
Hardy hopes to be back at Maryvale in February, when players report for Spring Training.
"It's one of the harder parts of this job," he said of winter rumors. "I'm just waiting around, doing my normal offseason things. I have no idea what's happening beyond that, but I do know I want to be a Brewer."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.