Orioles initiate dialogue with J.J. Hardy regarding contract extension

SARASOTA, Fla. – After adding two big-ticket free-agent acquisitions over the past week, the Orioles now appear to be focused on locking up shortstop J.J. Hardy to a contract extension.

The Orioles had a face-to-face meeting with Hardy's representation late last week with the intention of initiating extension talks.

The 31-year-old Hardy, who has been one of the top power-hitting shortstops in the game and is the glue of the Orioles infield, has long said he'd like to remain in Baltimore for the long term.

"It's something where I feel like they've had other stuff going on [before addressing my contract situation]," Hardy said on Monday. "Obviously we've made some nice moves here, and I think that's kind of the main thing to knock out right now, which is fine. It doesn't bother me one bit."

Hardy, who was one of two American League players to win Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards last season, is in the final year of a three-year, $22.5-million deal. He becomes a free agent at the end of the season.

Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette has told Hardy twice this offseason that the team is interested in an extension — once at the Gold Glove award ceremony in October and again at last month's FanFest in Baltimore — but this is the first time that the club has reached out to Hardy's representatives, the player said.

Asked Monday about pursuing an extension with Hardy, Duquette would only reiterate that he had said the club plans to pursue it in spring training.

"We said we were going to take a crack at it during the spring," Duquette said, "so that is in process."

Last week's discussions were preliminary, Hardy said, and no numbers were discussed.

"We'll see where it goes," Hardy said. "I guess that is the first step."

Orioles manager Buck Showalter has been a vocal proponent of extending Hardy. At FanFest, he said he'd like to see the team place a priority on locking up Hardy long term.

After a relatively inactive offseason, the Orioles signed right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez last week to a four-year, $50-million deal, the longest and largest issued to a free-agent pitcher in club history. The team then agreed to terms with slugger Nelson Cruz on a one-year, $8-million deal. The Orioles' projected $105-million payroll is the largest in club history.

"We had a good team, and within the last week we've gotten a lot better," Hardy said. "There's definitely excitement. I think we all feel good with what we've got. It's a pretty solid lineup. There's a lot of potential in the lineup to do a lot of good things."

The Orioles forfeited their first- and second-round draft picks to sign Jimenez and Cruz through the qualifying offer compensation process, a clear sign that the team is pushing its efforts to win now.

The Orioles have one of the best core groups of position players in baseball — a cast that includes Hardy, Adam Jones, Chris Davis, Matt Wieters, Manny Machado and Nick Markakis.

Now, it's a matter of keeping the group together long term. Duquette said last month that the team has tried to extend Davis and Wieters long term beyond 2015, but those attempts have been unsuccessful. Both are represented by Scott Boras, who typically likes his clients to test the free-agent waters.

Hardy signed a three-year extension to remain in Baltimore in July 2011 and the deal came together pretty quickly. It was signed about two weeks after the team made Hardy an offer.

Over the past three seasons, Hardy has hit 77 homers, more than any other shortstop over that span. He is coming off a season in which he led AL shortstops with 25 homers and 76 RBIs.

Perhaps even more important has been his stellar defense. He's won back-to-back Gold Gloves over the past two years, has helped mentor 21-year-old third baseman Manny Machado and serves as an overall team leader inside the clubhouse.