One of the few bright spots defensively for the Orioles in 2009 was shortstop Cesar Izturis. Signed
for $6 million over 2-years last offseason, Izturis returned nearly the value of the whole contract last season, posting a 1.3 WAR, worth $5.8 million according to FanGraphs. Chalk up a big win for MacPhail.
Still, Izturis, who will play 2010 at age 30, is not a long-term solution for the position. He is a pretty terrible hitter (his .256/.294/.328 mirrors perfectly his career numbers), and he's starting to get old. He's a fine option for 2010, but I'm sure the Orioles would love to have a younger option that could provide some more offensive punch for the long-term. This winter's trade market may provide one such option.
In 2007 and 2008, J.J. Hardy was one of the best shortstops in baseball. He hit; he played defense; he was a star. But in 2009, the bottom fell out for his hitting and he posted a .229/.302/.357 line--not so different from Cesar Izturis. His defense, though, remained stellar. In fact, FanGraphs rates him as the 3rd best defender over the 2007 to 2009 period. As noted in that article, the Brewers installed rookie Alcides Escobar at shortstop last season, perhaps making Hardy expendable. Should the Orioles take a look?
He's three years younger than Izturis, and plays defense just as well, but is a bit more expensive. Hardy earned $4.65 million in 2009, would be arbitration eligible for next season, and is slated to be a free agent after the 2010 season (according to Cot's; I'm not sure about that. Given that he was sent to the minors for a part of this season, I think that his free agency will be delayed by a year). Importantly, though, J.J. has significant upside with the bat. His down year last year can partly be attributed to a lower BAbip (.260 vs. career .278), but he also seemed to lose some of his power stroke; his line drive percentage fell, and he hit fewer home runs per fly ball. Still, if he can be had fairly cheaply, he would be a good risk for the Orioles to take. Since the team is unlikely to add a power bat on the corners, the O's will need to get extra production from nontraditional sources. Matt Wieters behind the plate and Adam Jones in centerfield are a good start, and J.J. Hardy could provide above average offense from the shortstop position.
Update: Nevermind. Hardy is off the market.