On the Block: J.J. Hardy

This offseason, the Baltimore Orioles infield experienced a total makeover.  The club signed Derek Lee and traded for Mark Reynolds and J.J. Hardy.

Lee’s had his struggles at the plate as he’s dealt with injury and consistency problems.  Reynolds got off to a very slow start but has turned it up of late and currently leads the team with 14 home runs.

But, the new O to contribute the most has been Hardy.  As the 28 year old’s contract is set to expire this year, the club has to decide whether they extend Hardy or look to deal their shortstop.

2011 did not get off to a superb start for Hardy, as he was only able to make it 6 games into the season before landing on the disabled list.  Injuries were nothing new for the shortstop.  Hardy’s only been able to play in more than 124 games twice in his 6 seasons.  He was hit with an oblique strain and landed on the shelf for a month.

Since his returning in early May, Hardy has been on fire, and he’s been especially torrid in June.  This month Hardy’s reached base safely in all but 1 of the 22 games he’s played.  His June average and OPS are .365 and 1.134 and these eye popping numbers have led the shortstop to his season line of .303/.367/.548.

That .538 slugging percentage is thanks to 10 home runs and 13 doubles.  In 101 games last year Hardy was only able to launch 6 dingers, and it took him over 85 games to reach the 11 home run plateau in 2009.  He reached the mark in 49 games this season.

He’s looking more like the Hardy of 2007-08 than the one we’ve seen over the past few years.  Back then he was able to produce back-to-back 26 and 24 home run seasons for the Brewers.  He was only able to combine to hit 17 homers over his next 2 seasons.

Hardy’s not only provided the bat, but also the glove.  While his offensive numbers had trailed off in recent seasons, his defense remained at a high level.  On the season Hardy’s only committed a single error as the O’s everyday short stop.

So what should the Orioles do?

As a fan it’s hard to want a team to move a guy who’s still young and playing as well as Hardy.  Shortstop has been a position that’s been screaming for production in Baltimore over the past several years.

Now under the leadership of Buck Showalter, the Orioles have high hopes going forward and no longer look to be AL East doormats.  The team could use a solid shortstop as they continue to build and look to attract marquee free agents.

But now the Orioles appear to have a few options on the horizon at short along with Hardy; one being this guy named Manny Machado.

Machado was the drafted by the O’s 3rd overall in last year’s draft.  Still only 17, Machado went 11 for 39 with 3 extra base hits and 5 RBIs in his 9 games between rookie ball and low-A.  He got off to a hot start in 2011 and is already playing for the O’s high-A affiliate as an 18 year old.

As a Florida native and top shortstop prospect, Machado has received Alex Rodriguez comparisons.  He came into 2011 as Baseball America’s 14th overall prospect, and barring setbacks it’s looking like he could reach the majors by 2013.

This is where things start to get a little uncertain for the O’s.  Baltimore has come out and said they would like to extend Hardy for 2 or 3 more seasons to hopefully bridge the gap to Machado.  However, if Hardy is able to keep his current pace, he could look to cash in with a longer contract than the Orioles are willing to provide.

Orioles’ GM Andy MacPhail has stated that he wants to begin negotiations with Hardy before the All-Star break to get an idea of the shortstop’s demands.  If the two sides seem to be way off in regards to money and years, the O’s would then have time to look into possible trade scenarios.  If you take away Jose Reyes, Hardy would be most coveted shortstop on the market right now.

.500 would be a significant accomplishment for the O’s.  Because Hardy is a Type-A free agent, the club may be willing to ride out the season with him as their shortstop.  They would then have the offseason to negotiate a deal or offer him arbitration and add the draft picks.

Right now, Hardy’s sitting at career levels pretty much across the board.  He’s only been able to maintain an OPS north of .800 once and that mark now sits at .915.  His career batting average is .265 and he’s held it at .303 for 2011.  The story is the same for OBP and SLG.

Perhaps most significant is his BABIP.  For his career Hardy has hovered at the .283 mark and has only had a BABIP over .300 once in his 6 seasons.  It is now sitting at .315, not way over the mark, but enough to show you that these numbers are probably unsustainable.

Add that to his injury history, and while Hardy has been a great addition for the O’s, I don’t know that he’ll be worth the contract his 2011 production could demand.  The club needs to listen to trade offers from other teams and look to sell high.

With Baltimore hosting the Reds this past weekend, talk surrounded the fact that the two match up well for a July deal.  Cincy could use pitching and a short stop, and Hardy’s name came up a few times.  The Reds have some interesting players, and top prospect Yonder Alonso is blocked at first by Joey Votto.  Not sure what it would take to get that done, but he sure would look nice manning first for the Birds.

Regardless, MacPhail needs to continue on his path of negotiating to figure out what it will take or if it’s even possible to lock Hardy up short term.  If that’s not an option, look for a deal that’s worth it or collect the picks.

Until then, here’s to plenty more of what Hardy’s already provided the O’s this season.

For more on the Orioles, be sure to check out Birds Watcher.

Tags: Alex Rodriguez Baltimore Orioles Cincinnati Reds Derek Lee JJ Hardy Joey Votto Jose Reyes Manny Machado Mark Reynolds Milwaukee Brewers Yonder Alonso

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