MILWAUKEE -- It didn't take long for the Brewers to make the trade everybody saw coming. The ticker tape was still falling in Manhattan on Friday when the Brewers dealt shortstop and trade-rumor staple J.J. Hardy to the Twins for speedy center fielder Carlos Gomez. The move eased Milwaukee's shortstop logjam between Hardy, a former All-Star, and Alcides Escobar, the organization's top prospect, essentially handing the baton to Escobar for 2010. It also gave the Brewers their center fielder and meant the team will not pursue outgoing free agent Mike Cameron. General manager Doug Melvin said he left a message at Cameron's home on Friday explaining the move.
Melvin spoke with Hardy, too, but Hardy needed no explanation. He said in the moments after the deal was announced that he, "definitely expected to get traded." What Hardy didn't see was the Brewers getting an outfielder in return. "I definitely thought I was going to get traded for a pitcher," he said. Melvin tried. He identified pitching as his top offseason priority and was working offers with several teams for Hardy. None offered the sort of pitching that Melvin sought. "In the end, there wasn't anybody who matched the ability of Carlos Gomez," Melvin said. "When you can't get pitching back, you try to find something to improve your pitching." Defensively, Gomez should do just that, but he remains raw at the plate. In 348 games over parts of three seasons, he's a .246 hitter with a .292 on-base percentage, 12 home runs, 99 RBIs and 59 stolen bases in 70 tries. He doesn't turn 24 until Dec. 4. The Twins acquired Gomez as part of the mega-trade that sent pitcher Johan Santana to the Mets in February 2008, and Gomez made 90 starts as Minnesota's leadoff hitter that year. He hit .258 with 59 RBIs, 79 runs scored and 33 steals, enough to enter 2009 as the Twins' center field incumbent, but then lost the starting job after hitting .195 through the 2009 season's first month. Gomez spent the year in a timeshare with Denard Span. For his career, Gomez has made 101 of his 263 starts in the leadoff spot and is just a .240 hitter with a .279 on-base percentage. Melvin said the Brewers were planning to keep second baseman Rickie Weeks in the leadoff hole and would try to hone Gomez's offensive potential in another spot. "He's still learning to become a hitter," Melvin said. "The one thing about speed is that it plays on both sides of the white lines, both offensively and defensively. ... My thinking is that guys with speed develop later. Look at some of the players from years ago: Otis Nixon, Lance Johnson, Tom Goodwin. Even Shane Victorino [of the Phillies] and Michael Bourn [of the Astros], two guys that are in the big leagues and play a good center field. They were 25, 26 before they made their big jump in the big leagues." Melvin reported that Brewers manager Ken Macha was on board with the trade. Macha is not a big believer in stolen bases, but Melvin said he believes the skipper will adjust to his personnel next season. Gomez was at home in the Dominican capital of Santiago when he got news of the trade from Twins GM Bill Smith. It was, "a big surprise." "Coming back to the National League is exciting," Gomez said. "It means you have a chance to play every day. Even if you don't start, you're probably going to get a chance as a pinch-hitter. In the American League, if you don't start, you don't play. "But I don't have pinch-hitting in my mind. I want to play every day." After speaking with Melvin, Gomez felt assured he would get that opportunity. "I don't want to be a backup player. I'm too young to be a backup," he said. "If Milwaukee wanted me, they know I can play every day. They want me to be an exciting player, but to make more contact, work the count. Get on base. "It's going to be exciting. I can't wait to start." Twins manager Rob Gardenhire loved Gomez's speed and his range in center field but conceded before Game 2 of this year's American League Division Series against the Yankees, when Gomez made a start, that his offensive game was a work in progress. "He irritates people," Gardenhire said. "Sometimes me." He was asked to expound. "We've been trying to get him to calm down and get him to control the situations, and sometimes the situation controls him," Gardenhire said. "There are times when, yes, you're like, 'Go-Go, you have to see what we're trying to do here.' We just had a 25-pitch inning from our pitcher, and he goes up and falls down swinging on the first pitch. "Those things get you irritated as a manager, because we want him to recognize what we're doing in a game. But he can play, and he's fun to watch. He's very, very talented and has a lot to learn." Gomez narrowly qualified for arbitration this winter as a "Super 2" player, though the Brewers will control his rights for four years. He earned $437,500 in 2009 and, even with a significant raise, will come much cheaper than Hardy, who made $4.65 million and should get another raise in arbitration despite the worst year of his career. Hardy, 27 and Milwaukee's second-round Draft pick in 2001, batted a career-low .229 with 11 homers and 47 RBIs in 2009 and drew a surprise demotion to the Minor Leagues on Aug. 12. Hardy was back in the big leagues on Sept. 1, but the Brewers timed the move such that Hardy was left one day short of the service time he needed to qualify for a full Major League season. As a result, Hardy's free agency was pushed back a year. He won't be eligible until the winter of 2011-2012. "That still hurts a little bit," Hardy said. "But being traded, that's baseball. I had a good five years in Milwaukee and I wouldn't take anything back. They were the ones who gave me the opportunity to be in the big leagues and show what I can do. There's no hard feelings. "Milwaukee drafted me as a shortstop when a lot of teams didn't want me as a shortstop. They wanted me as a pitcher. The Brewers were the team that brought me to the big leagues for the first time. So I definitely want to look at everything in a positive way. There are things I could look at in a negative way, but I don't want to do that. That doesn't serve anyone." The Brewers and Twins are so-called super-rivals in Interleague Play and will see each other twice once again in 2010, from May 21-23 in Minnesota and June 22-24 at Miller Park.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.