Tim Beckham, talks to the media about being traded from the Rays to the Orioles. (Eduardo A. Encina, Baltimore Sun video)
The Orioles acquired Tim Beckham at Monday's non-waiver trade deadline to fill the starting shortstop position in J.J. Hardy's absence. But as Beckham joined his new club and started Tuesday against the Kansas City Royals, manager Buck Showalter made it clear the job remains Hardy's once he returns from a broken right wrist.
Moments after the Orioles made the deal with the Tampa Bay Rays to get Beckham – a former No. 1 overall pick who remains under team control for the next three years and even has a minor-league option – Showalter called Hardy into his office. He didn't want Hardy have any uncertainty about his immediate future.
"Like I told J.J. yesterday, when J.J. comes back on [August] 18th, he's playing shortstop," said Showalter, referring to the date when Hardy is eligible to be activated from the DL after being transferred to the 60-day DL on Monday. " … I just felt like I needed to say that to him because you're first thought it to assume that he knows that. But then you don't like having people assume things. … The thing that kills players is the unknown."
In making his first start with the Orioles Tuesday night, Beckham became the team's sixth different player to start at shortstop this season. Hardy's injury – he was hit by a pitch on June 18 – tested the team's depth at the position, especially with utility man Ryan Flaherty already out with a shoulder injurt.
Paul Janish didn't prove to be an everyday option, and the Orioles even gave second baseman Jonathan Schoop a brief look at shortstop. The team made two trades for players to fill the position, first a deal with the Yankees for Ruben Tejada before acquiring Beckham.
Filling the position has been a struggle. Overall, the five players who manned the shortstop position combined for a minus-1.2 wins above replacement (WAR), which is the lowest in the American League. And Hardy wasn't having a good year before getting hurt.
Despite providing his typical steady defense while quarterbacking the infield (a 0.4 defensive WAR doesn't necessarily indicate his true value defensively), Hardy was an overall negative replacement player at the time he was hurt (minus-0.6 WAR overall). Any hope of turning his season around offensively was derailed by the injury. Still, Showalter said his absence has hurt.
"Well anytime J.J. is not there, [it's different]," Showalter said. "… J.J. is such an anchor, [helping] people [with] positioning, anything about coverage on bases. Anything. He's always a rock for those guys to look to. He knows exactly where everybody on the field is supposed to be. Any team that loses that has a challenge, but not a day goes by that we don't know how tough it's been without J.J. there for a lot of reasons."
While Showalter ensures the starting shortstop job will be Hardy's when he returns this season, his long-term future with the club is definitely in question – and the addition of a controllable player like Beckham clouds it even more. The Orioles have a $14-million club option for Hardy for next season that isn't likely to be picked up.
Beckham was the Rays' Opening Day starting shortstop and flourished with regular playing time until he shifted to second base after Tampa Bay acquired shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria in a trade with the Florida Marlins in late June. The ensuing return of second baseman Brad Miller also cut into Beckham's playing time.
Still, Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said that the 27-year-old Beckham, who was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 draft, seems to be coming into his own as a player. His 12 homers offer solid power for the position, and despite 110 strikeouts in 345 plate appearances entering Monday, he has a 1.3 overall WAR, according to BaseballReference.com
"As far as just getting in there and playing every day, getting the everyday repetitions and being able to make adjustments every day," Beckham said. "That's what the game of baseball is about. So as far as me being confident in my hitting ability and what I can do at the plate is definitely there. I know what I can do and I know I can help this club win some games."
Statistically, Beckham is an overall upgrade over Tejada, including on defense, where his 0.5 defensive WAR bests Tejada's 0.2.
"I definitely feel like I can help in that category as well," Beckham said. "We had a pretty good defensive squad in Tampa but like I said, I'm here in Baltimore now and it's a new chapter, a new beginning, and I'm looking forward to it. … It's been fun the past couple years playing against these guys and playing against that middle infield and watching Machado and Schoop work, Machado on the corner. It's impressive. It's a good group to be a part of and I'm ready to get after it."
Beckham's arrival shifts Tejada into the utility role for now. He's much more versatile than second baseman Johnny Giavotella, who was designated to make roster room for Beckham, at least until the return of Flaherty, who is on a minor league rehab assignment.
"Tim is going to play shortstop tonight and that's kind of where we're going," Showalter said. "Ruben's done a nice job for us. We're not going to leave him high and dry. He'll be involved. I want to see how long – if and when on Ryan [Flaherty's return]."
Showalter said that he wants Beckham to feel like he has a fresh start in his new team. The Rays are his only organization he’s ever known, and he wants to see Beckham blaze his own path in Baltimore without the pressure placed upon him as a former No. 1 overall selection.
“My thought is -- other than hearing a couple people weigh in during the process -- I don’t want to hear anybody,” Showalter said. “I really don’t. I’ve found out through the years that players respond. …. We’re going to make that as positive as possible. Understand that’s a really good organization he’s coming from and they’ve been with him what nine years that they’ve had him?”