Orioles Take Calculated Risk With J.J. Hardy

Many considered J.J. Hardy as the potential silver medal to Jose Reyes in the shortstop trade market this summer. The Orioles put an end to such talk over the weekend, as they locked up the 28-year-old to a three year, $22.5 million deal. The deal appears to be a simple $7.5 million per year contract without any options, although it does include a limited no-trade clause, allowing Hardy to block trades to eight different teams each season. The price tag is high for a player who has struggled to stay on the field, but Hardy is also of a quality to warrant it.

At this point, there should be little doubt about Hardy’s quality as a player. Hardy has a legitimate ability to hit for power which seems more or less absent among most shortstops these days; he has a career .166 ISO and a .212 mark this season after his freedom from spacious Target Field. He doesn’t have any major flaws, either, as his walk rate, strikeout rate, and BABIP all hover near the league average for his career.

Despite his more than competent bat, Hardy is most known for his defense. Every defensive metric available here at FanGraphs has rated him well above average each and every year of his pre-Baltimore career except for two years of -1 performance in 2005 and 2006 by TZL. Having watched him as a Brewer for five seasons, I can sufficiently say he passed the eye test. But this year his defense has been graded below average by DRS, UZR, and TotalZone, all marking him around three runs below average. This has led to speculation that Hardy’s injuries are hampering his defensive ability; personally, I hesitate to call Hardy anything worse than average at shortstop.

This overall quality has made Hardy one of the league’s better shortstops since 2008, compiling 10.6 WAR in 1,751 plate appearances. Of course, attention must be paid to the number 1,751 — a low number of plate appearances for three-and-a-half seasons. As a result, Hardy has the unenviable perception of being injury prone. I’m not sure this is entirely fair. Hardy is looking at about 100 more plate appearances if the Brewers don’t stupidly demote him to the minor leagues in 2009. His first major injury in 2006 was the result of a freak play at home plate in which Sal Fasano‘s shin guards broke Hardy’s ankle. Since then, he’s had a left wrist injury in 2010 (45 games) and an oblique injury (25 games).

Past injury is a good predictor of future injury, but if Hardy can make it through the rest of the 2011 season without issue — and he hasn’t even had a day-to-day since returning on May 10th — he will have averaged around 120 games per season over the last four years. Considering he’s averaged about 3.0 WAR per 120 games, he would have surplus value in spades if he can accomplish that.

The move does seem short-sighted for an Orioles team which doesn’t appear to have any legitimate aspirations for contention in the next three years. But if Hardy does indeed manage to be a moderately durable player — a fair designation for a player who appears in 120 games per year, I think — his contract would be immensely movable, able to bring in necessary prospects for the rebuilding effort. The Orioles also aren’t a small-market team or even a mid-market team — this is a team that had the money to offer nine figures to Mark Teixeira without worry, and $7.5 million won’t be a backbreaker for a team in that market.

So yes, the Orioles are taking a bit of a risk with a player who has suffered a few injuries in his career. But make no mistake, there is a significant amount of calculation on the part of Andy MacPhail and his front office. The prospect of failure is there, for sure. But the risk is minimal, and the potential reward for the Orioles is much greater, whether it comes from Hardy’s performance for the club or his return in a future trade.



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Jake T
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Jake T
5 years 5 days ago

I think the signing’s a nice move for Baltimore.. as the article stated, he can be kept if they find a way to contend, or most likely easily dealt for prospects if not.

Paqs
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Paqs
5 years 5 days ago

Six figures to Tex? Like $100,000?

twinsfan
Member
twinsfan
5 years 5 days ago

Per day.

Jim Lahey
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Jim Lahey
5 years 5 days ago

What an offer huh? No wonder the yankees managed to be the high bidders.

mike wants wins
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mike wants wins
5 years 5 days ago

Whether they can contend or not, they need to field a good team to keep the fans coming. They signed a very good SS for a very decent price. If only the Twins hadn’t dumped him for no reason…..This move is pretty much undebatable, isn’t it?

shibboleth
Member
shibboleth
5 years 5 days ago

That’s my take on it, too. The O’s still have a good core of young players who are showing tangible signs of improvement and potential future growth. Every year there is a team that surprises – who’s to say the 2012 O’s won’t be the 2011 Tribe? Hardy can pay dividends to the club in a number of ways now that he has this contract… if not with on field production then as a tradeable commodity with an attractive contract.

mike wants wins
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mike wants wins
5 years 5 days ago

Plus, you need a SS, where else are they going to get one?

CircleChange11
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CircleChange11
5 years 3 days ago

The AL East says the O’s can’t be the 2011 Tribe, unless they’re/we’re counting on NYY and BOS to significantly underplay like DET and CWS did for the first half of the season (and the CWS continue to).

The Indians 51 wins would put them in 4th place in the East … so maybe the 2012 O’s can be the 2011 Indians.

The Central has 2 teams over .500, the East has 4. Big difference.

chuckb
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chuckb
5 years 5 days ago

I think it’s a great contract for the O’s and question why Hardy would sign it. It seems to me he could get this or more on the open market this summer and, if he wanted to return to the O’s, he’d have been able to do that.

Rob
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Rob
5 years 5 days ago

The problem really isn’t signing Hardy, its losing out on the prospects by not trading him.

JamesDaBear
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5 years 4 days ago

His much reduced cost makes it much more likely they’ll realize a huge haul when they go to trade him. Unless there are some trade clauses included we don’t know about, this is a very team-friendly deal. Hardy will either be a great bridge to Manny Machado and/or bring significant value back in trade.

Dave
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Dave
5 years 5 days ago

I’m admittedly ignorant when it comes to fielding statistics, but Hardy has a .994 fielding %b this season with just 2 errors. He may not have exceptional range, but he gets to a lot of balls and has been making great plays all season. I’d have to question any metric that grades him “below average.”

Shaggychild
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Shaggychild
5 years 5 days ago

Quoting fielding percentage around here won’t lend you any credibility.

jdbolick
Member
Member
5 years 5 days ago

Just because old standbys like batting average and fielding percentage are flawed doesn’t mean that they’re irrelevant. Too many young stats guys are irrationally prejudiced against any statistic the average fan would understand.

Phillie697
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Phillie697
5 years 3 days ago

If a team went by the perception of average fans as the true measure of a player’s talent, they’d probably be a worse team than the Royals.

kid
Member
kid
5 years 5 days ago

Damn. I was hoping he’d get dealt to the Reds or some other offensive juggernaut.

sen-baldacci
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sen-baldacci
5 years 5 days ago

it would seem they aren’t in a rush to see Machado in the big leagues soon. It certainly means they don’t have to rush him and if machado blossoms, they can get good trade value if hardy can stay relatively healthy (and somewhat productive).

shibboleth
Member
shibboleth
5 years 5 days ago

Exactly. Machado is all of 19 with less than one hundred PA in high A ball. He’s still on the fast track and could make Hardy tradeable down the road, but he needs seasoning at the plate and time to improve his defense.

Milk Steak
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Milk Steak
5 years 5 days ago

It could also mean moving Hardy to second when Machado is ready.

jdbolick
Member
Member
5 years 5 days ago

As an Orioles fan, I’m very happy about it. Not only does it provide quality at a scarce position, but Baltimore couldn’t just keep adding young players to the clubhouse and expect them to find their way. You need some veterans to provide stability and leadership, and it’s nice to see the front office make a modest commitment to getting above .500 sometime before I die.

Dave in GB
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Dave in GB
5 years 5 days ago

Hardy’s injury history raises a few red flags, but I think is a good risk for a position that’s in such demand. As long as his stints on the DL are minimal, he’s definately movable when Machado is ready. Or, on the other hand, Hardy could change positions when Machado is ready.

And this notion that the Orioles are a small market team is crazy. They’re in one of the better markets in the league, but has been stifled by a horrible owner and GM’s in constant rebuilding. They’ve basically lost the interest of a generation of fans through 14 years of losing, which doesn’t help their cause. Lets not forget they were the last team who outspent the Yankees before Angelos blew things up.

Dave M
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Dave M
5 years 5 days ago

If only the Brewers hadn’t traded two major league shortstops in two years for the likes of Carlos Gomez and Yuni Betancourt… Yeesh.

(I am aware that Escobar was the major piece to get Greinke).

Bill
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Bill
5 years 2 days ago

They would still have had Escobar to trade even if they hadn’t traded Hardy. In fact, Escobar probably would have been more valuable as he would have been seen as a top prospect instead of a young shortstop with contact problems.

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