J.J. Hardy will be among the headliners this weekend as the Orioles honor this year’s club Hall of Fame class at Camden Yards. Considering the long-standing shortstop problem that has existed since he left after the 2017 season and how disappointing the Orioles were before he arrived, his return to Baltimore should not be overlooked.
To the extent that it’s possible, the Orioles should take a moment to realize what a relatively simple addition to the current club like Hardy was back in the winter of 2010 could do for their competitive aspirations.
Hardy was entering his age-28 season when the Orioles acquired him from the Minnesota Twins. He’d been an All-Star with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2007, then had an even better offensive year in 2008 before falling off in 2009, ultimately being demoted to the minors. He spent one year with the Twins and had one year of club control left when the Orioles acquired him for a pair of pitchers.
The Orioles had just used a top draft pick on shortstop Manny Machado, but that didn’t stop them from signing Hardy to a three-year contract extension worth $22.25 million in 2011. Hardy had his best season with the Orioles that year, batting .269 with an .801 OPS and 30 home runs with his standout defense making him worth 4.5 wins above replacement (WAR), according to FanGraphs.
He was worth 8.6 WAR during his three-year extension, winning the Gold Glove award in 2012, 2013 and 2014 while making his second All-Star appearance and winning a Silver Slugger Award in 2013.
The Orioles were breaking through in that period as well, ending a 15-year playoff drought in 2012 and winning the American League East and reaching the American League Championship Series in 2014. Hardy was a big part of that, and even though he wasn’t as healthy or productive over the ensuing three-year extension, his place in the most competitive stretch of Orioles baseball is secure and worthy of the honor he’s getting this weekend.
Adding a player as important as Hardy this winter could be easier said than done, for a variety of reasons. But if the Orioles are interested in starting to show a beleaguered fanbase that they’re ready to win, a move like that would make sense for several reasons.
This offseason is already renowned for the shortstops set to be available on the market, with the Houston Astros’ Carlos Correa, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Corey Seager, the Colorado Rockies’ Trevor Story, the New York Mets’ Javier Baez and the Toronto Blue Jays’ Marcus Semien all expected to command big deals. It’s hard to see the Orioles swimming in that end of the pool given the contracts that will be required, though a move a la the Washington Nationals signing free agent Jayson Worth to a nine-figure contract in December 2010 to show they’re serious about contending would certainly make waves.
The next year’s shortstop class features a player already traded in new Los Angeles Dodgers star Trea Turner, plus the Atlanta Braves’ Dansby Swanson, leaving little on the top of that market for the Orioles to pounce on unless they’re willing to pay a premium.
It’s fair to wonder whether any kind of big move at shortstop is even required for the Orioles this winter. They’ve done well with the inexpensive, short-term fixes in José Iglesias and Freddy Galvis, and Ramón Urías is doing a passable job there now on a league-minimum salary. He might not be the bridge to the Gunnar Henderson/Jordan Westburg/Joey Ortiz generation that could arrive at the end of 2022 or in 2023 that will move the needle, though, and if the Orioles are looking for one, a veteran who could do what Hardy did on and off the field would be ideal.
He doesn’t need to play seven seasons for the club the way Hardy did. But eventually, the Orioles are going to start needing to add some players with pedigree to help fill in around what’s already a growing major league core with plenty of talent along the way. A decade ago, they did that with Hardy. He’s going in the Orioles Hall of Fame this weekend for what that move turned out to do for the club.
Around the horn
The Orioles claimed utility player Jorge Mateo, 26, off waivers from the San Diego Padres Thursday and designated infielder Pat Valaika for assignment. Mateo, a former top prospect with the New York Yankees and Oakland Athletics, has a career .545 OPS in 115 major league at-bats.
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Valaika, 28, started a team-high 46 games at second base this season. He hit .192 with a .531 OPS in 72 games.