The Orioles plan on opening contract talks with shortstop J.J. Hardy this season, and it would be a move that makes a lot of sense for the organization. The Orioles need someone to keep the position warm until top prospect Manny Machado is ready for prime time, and when healthy, Hardy has proved to be capable.
Since returning the lineup in mid May from one of those pesky oblique injuries, Hardy has batted .298 with six home runs and 17 runs batted in. Needless to say, that’s a major offensive upgrade over Cesar Izturis. I’m too lazy to check, but I’m pretty sure Izturis doesn’t have six home runs in his career (OK, he has 15).
“If you look at him and you've never seen him play, you think, how can this guy do that? But he's got juice, and the best thing he does is he stays on top of the ball with the barrel of his bat. He has a great swing path," Orioles hitting coach Jim Presley told our Jeff Zrebiec, who broke the Hardy extension story.
An unexpected bonus has been how Hardy has fared leading off, something he had never done in his career before a week ago. In his four games hitting first in the order, he is batting .353 with two home runs and a .450 on-base percentage. Yes, I know 20 plate appearances is a small sample size, but with no timetable for the return of Brian Roberts, it looks like the Orioles may have another legitimate leadoff option in Hardy.
That’s why it is wise that the Orioles are trying to sign Hardy, a free agent at season’s end, to a multi-year contract extension. An underrated defender, Hardy can stop the team’s revolving door at shortstop until Machado, now with Single-A Delmarva, makes his much-anticipated major league debut in 2013 or 2014.
"There's no reason why he wouldn't be an asset here for years to come," Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail told Zrebiec. "I definitely think we'll have conversations. There's no question about it. The closer you get [to] free agency, the more difficult it is for players to want that extension. I think it's something that we definitely targeted before the All-Star break to talk about."
Hopefully they can get that deal done -- or at least hammer out the framework of one -- so they don’t have to consider dealing him at the July 31 deadline. If they aren’t absolutely sure they can bring Hardy back, they will have no choice but to listen to offers for him as he would be one of their most valuable trade assets.