Stacey Long: Is it too early to consider an extension for Hardy?

Of all the offseason acquisitions made by the Orioles, the one I found most exciting was the trade for shortstop J.J. Hardy. I thought he'd be a good fit for the Orioles back when he played for the Brewers, so picking him up from the Twins for the bargain price of two minor league relievers was, in my opinion, a fantastic move. The only thing that could make the deal better is if Orioles President of Baseball Operations Andy MacPhail takes the next step and extends Hardy before he has the chance to test free agency.

A cursory glance at Hardy's statistics might not wow you, especially when it seems as though his best years happened over two seasons ago. But put into context of his position, Hardy's offensive numbers are above average. His OPS in 2010 of .714 was better than Derek Jeter, Jason Bartlett, and Yunel Escobar, all of whom manned shortstop in the American League East. That's not even taking into account the fact that he is, by nearly all measures, an above-average defender.

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There is also this to consider: It is very possible that Hardy, if healthy, will outperform his offensive numbers of the past two seasons, and at just 28, will be capable of doing so for years to come.

Back in 2009, when Hardy had his poorest offensive season and was subsequently demoted to Triple-A for three weeks, an article was written at Beyond the Boxscore examining Hardy's season to that point. If you're not familiar with BtB, it is a site written from a sabermetric perspective. The statistic focused on in this particular article is Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP). The point made in the article is that Hardy's BABIP prior to his demotion in 2009 was much lower than his career average, and that if he'd gotten just six more singles to bring it in line with that average, it would have made his offensive numbers much more respectable. Simply put, he had a run of bad luck.

In 2010, Hardy was limited to just 101 games due to a left wrist injury. He made two trips to the disabled list last season, both for the same injury. Once he returned to the Twins lineup fully healed, Hardy played 64 more games and hit .302/.356/.436 with 14 doubles and three home runs. That's quite a bit better than his overall line of .268/.320/.394, much of which was racked up as he played hurt.

This past offseason, the Orioles' front office had to fill three positions in the infield. Third baseman Mark Reynolds will be with the team in 2012, but as it stands right now, there will again be holes at first base and shortstop at the end of the season. Hardy is a plus defender, relatively young and provides a steady bat at a position on the field where offense is at a premium. A three-year extension would provide stability in the lineup and hopefully set the Orioles at shortstop until prospect Manny Machado is ready for the majors.

Stacey Long blogs about the Orioles at Camden Chat. Read Long's Orioles observations this week, as MASNsports.com begins a season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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