It may be the oddest timing for a contract extension announcement in recent memory — on the eve of the first American League Championship Series game at Camden Yards in 17 years and just weeks away from free agency.
But the Orioles took care of a major chunk of offseason business Thursday by agreeing to a three-year deal worth $40 million with shortstop J.J. Hardy. He’s locked up through 2017 with a team option for 2018.
“Is there ever a bad time to announce J.J. continuing as an Oriole? I'd do it any time,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “I'd do it in the fifth inning tomorrow. I think it's a great thing for the Orioles and our fans.”
Hardy’s three-year, $22.5 million extension signed in 2011 expires at the end of the month, and he could have filed for free agency immediately after the World Series ended. But he chose to stick with the Orioles, who acquired him in December 2010 from the Minnesota Twins in a trade for two pitchers no longer in affiliated baseball.
“[Free agency] crossed my mind, but at the same time this is where I wanted to be. There's a lot of uncertainty in free agency, you don't know what's gonna happen,” said Hardy, a two-time Gold Glover who hit .268 with nine homers and 52 RBIs in 141 games this season for the Orioles. “I knew that I liked it here, I knew that I liked playing with all my teammates, the whole coaching staff. I enjoyed playing for them.”
Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette has said repeatedly this year that he was not going to discuss contracts with his pending free agents during the season. He obviously changed his mind recently.
“Why not now, really? When we looked at the market, we thought the best chance to sign J.J. was before he went to free agency because he’s distinguished himself as one of the top shortstops in the league,” Duquette said. “And J.J. let us know that he wanted to continue his career here in Baltimore.”
Still, the timing — before the Orioles play their most important game since 1997 — caught some by surprise.
“Put the timing on Dan Duquette. Awkward. He’s the king of awkwardness. He doesn’t care,” center fielder Adam Jones said. “He doesn’t care. He thinks … I don’t know what he thinks.”
Jones, who is signed through 2018, thinks the extension for Hardy was a great move.
“That’s awesome for me as a teammate of his,” Jones said. “And the city is going to have stability at shortstop.”
Showalter was asked whether the signing meant Hardy will remain at shortstop for the next three seasons and Manny Machado, who is dealing with his second knee surgery in less than a year, would stay at third base long-term.
“I’m not announcing my roster until 10 o'clock [Friday] morning. J.J.'s got a shot at being on it, though,” Showalter joked. “We all think Manny’s going to be fine next year, but ‘what if?’ But it's comforting, not necessarily for me but for his teammates and his fans that [Hardy is] going to be here.”
Hardy was one of the Orioles’ several pending free agents, headlined by outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis, who has a mutual option that won’t be picked up. Cruz and Markakis both said Thursday that they did not believe there were any serious ongoing discussions between their representatives and Duquette.
“Nothing’s going on right now,” said Cruz, who recently switched representatives. “Early we were talking, but nothing’s going on right now.”
Markakis said Hardy’s contract doesn’t have a direct bearing on him.
“It’s not going to affect my decision. It’s another bonus to my decision if I have to make that decision,” Markakis said. “Being able to stay here with these guys and playing with this group of guys for the next several years would be ideal. But it’s not going to make or break my decision. I’m happy for him, he deserves it, and it’s been a pleasure watching him play.”
When he signed his first extension in 2011, Hardy said it was because he thought the club was on the cusp of winning. Now, he said he thinks that championship-type level won’t stop.
“I believe that Dan [Duquette], Buck, the Angelos family — they're all going to continue doing everything they possibly can to make this organization better,” Hardy said. “And bottom line, it comes down to winning, and I think we've got a good thing here.”
Baltimore Sun reporters Eduardo A. Encina and Jon Meoli contributed to this article.