Would Brewers general manager Doug Melvin understand if Hardy and his agent, Mike Seal, were upset about the timing of Hardy's demotion?
"As long as they understand that we waited a long time for the player," Melvin said. "We carried certain young players -- I won't name them -- when they weren't performing earlier in their careers to help develop them. There are some players who gained some early service time when they didn't perform at this level."
Indeed, there were intense debates about Hardy during his rookie season, when he was hitting .187 at the All-Star break. A number of club officials, some very high-ranking, wanted to send Hardy down to Triple-A, but in the end he remained in Milwaukee.
He responded by batting .308 after the All-Star break that season. Hardy was limited to 35 games the following season by a major ankle injury, but bounced back in 2007 to make the National League All-Star team and he followed with a .283 average and 24 homers in '08.
But 2009 has been a nightmare. When the Brewers pulled the trigger and optioned him to Nashville, Hardy was batting .229 with 11 home runs and 45 RBIs.
Club officials insisted it was a baseball decision. But adding a year of club control could make Hardy dramatically more attractive to other teams on the offseason trade market if the Brewers decide to hand the reigns to prospect Alcides Escobar next year.
"They're never going to say it's about service time, but we can't help but have that cross our minds," said Seal, Hardy's agent since 2002. "If it is about the player's free agency, controlling him longer, then it's a very shrewd move.
"We understand the club has options on his contract -- I just disagree with the transaction. For the most part, I believe everyday Major League hitters correct themselves with Major League pitching. I'm sure there are those in the industry that agree with me in that sending a four-year everyday shortstop, especially one of the most productive offensive and defensive shortstops the past three years, sending him to the Minors is not the answer. You factor in other things, too, such as his make-up, the way he represents the Milwaukee Brewers, the decision does not make sense. I think there were alternatives to getting him back on track, such as resting him more and grooving him back into the lineup. We've seen this method work before with other accomplished, regular Major League hitters. A situation like J.J.'s has not presented itself in the past, so it's tough for us not to think about the underlying issue of his service time."
Melvin and Seal have had dialogue in recent days about Hardy's situation. It's also been a topic of conversation in the Brewers' clubhouse.
"I feel for J.J. as a teammate," said pitcher Dave Bush, the team's union representative. "It could have happened to me last year when I was sent down [in May, only to be recalled days later when Yovani Gallardo suffered a knee injury]. It's unfortunate from a player's perspective, but there's nothing illegal about it. You have to make the best you can out of it. The way I looked at it last year, if I had been pitching well I would have never gone down."
Brewers manager Ken Macha also chimed in.
"Baseball has got rules, and sometimes the rules interfere with what you want," he said.
Macha recalled the winter of 1976-77, when the expansion Blue Jays and Mariners were drafting players. Macha was winter league teammates with A's farmhand Gary Woods, who was struggling at the time but was eligible for the Draft, because he played for an American League organization. Macha was Pittsburgh Pirates property, and was not eligible.
"He was drafted by the Blue Jays and went straight to the big leagues," Macha said. "That's the way the rules were. I was in Triple-A the next year making $1,000 a month."
Macha and Melvin both said that Hardy and Escobar would simply share time at shortstop during September. Macha said he didn't expect to use either player at a position other than shortstop.
Melvin wouldn't reveal his plans for the position next year.
"J.J. is going to be a fine big league player for a number of years. He's going to bounce back," Melvin said. "I wouldn't be surprised if he has a big year next year."
For the Brewers or for another team?
"I don't know," Melvin said.
Hardy may be the most well-known name, but he won't be the only player added to the roster in September. Right-hander Chris Smith is likely to join Hardy on Tuesday in St. Louis, where the Brewers begin a three-game series, and the team plans to stagger additional callups in the days that follow since Nashville is fighting for a spot in the postseason.
"We have some obligations to those teams, not to totally strip them," Melvin said.
Melvin and Macha discussed their plan Friday. The Brewers expect to recall three pitchers, two infielders and an outfielder, though not all at once. Right fielder Corey Hart will also join the fray once he completes a Minor League rehabilitation assignment.
When it's all said and done, the Brewers will probably have fewer September callups than last season, when the team was vying for a spot in the postseason.
"We had too many last year," Melvin said. "Too many players lying around. But you didn't want to kick yourself if you had back-to-back 15-inning games and you needed another pinch-hitter."
Said Macha: "If you're coming up, you're probably going to have a chance to play."