There were a lot of questions entering spring training for the Orioles, and a few answers were found along the way. We discovered who would fill out the rotation. We've learned who would get playing time at second base and in left field. The bullpen has filled in and roles have been mostly defined.
The one thing that didn't resolve itself during the spring was the future of shortstop J.J. Hardy. There were multiple reports, even from MASNsports.com's own Roch Kubatko, that the O's were working on extension for Hardy prior to the start of the season. We are now diving into mid-April and haven't heard much more about the matter.
There are many who don't see the reason to keep Hardy around in Baltimore beyond this season, when his contract expires. Some believe that Manny Machado is the eventual everyday shortstop for this team. Machado did, of course, come through the minors as a shortstop and was only moved to third base a few weeks before his call to the majors in 2012. In my eyes, failing to lock down the 31-year-old Hardy to an extension soon could be very costly to the team's window of opportunity to compete.
Hardy may leave a little to be desired with the bat at times. He can be streaky and fail to hit for a super average throughout the course of a season. There is the power to factor in, however, and he's hit more than 20 homers in each of his three seasons in Baltimore. It should be mentioned that over the past few days, Hardy has had a back injury crop up, but this doesn't appear to be a long-term concern. He's been mostly durable during his career.
No one can deny Hardy's steady defense at one of the toughest positions in the game. After winning two straight Gold Gloves, Hardy doesn't even get the consideration from most as an elite shortstop. In my eyes, he's one of the top five at his position in the game right now. Throw him right in the mix with Troy Tulowitzki, Elvis Andrus, Hanley Ramirez and Andrelton Simmons.
I've been one of the biggest fans of Machado since he came into the league. I also have been able to quell some of my excitement and expectation since Machado suffered his knee injury at the end of last season. I have no idea what to expect from him when he returns. I most definitely don't expect him to come back and be the same exact player he was a year ago. I also don't expect him to play out the rest of this season at third base and then prepare to make a switch to shortstop in 2015. That seems like a lot to ask of a young player, even of Machado's ability.
Re-signing Hardy to a new deal would solidify the best left side of an infield in baseball. It would compare with what the Rays are doing down in Florida. Evan Longoria mans third base for Tampa Bay quite well, and the team just gave shortstop Yunel Escobar an extension to lock down a solid left side, especially from a defensive standpoint. Escobar is admittedly not the player Hardy is with the bat, and not quite the same player with the glove, either. The two do compare in age though, and the O's should be able to get something done.
The lack of an extension for Hardy in spring training puzzled me. It seemed like the perfect idea, especially with this window of opportunity for the team. It also seemed like the perfect move to make when Matt Wieters and Chris Davis have looming expiring contracts on the horizon. It's not just a smart baseball move, but a move to show the fan base and community that the Orioles are willing to keep talent around in an effort to win.
I'm not sure why talks of a new deal for Hardy have gone by the wayside since the middle of spring training. I'm also not sure if they will resurface anytime soon. The only thing I'm sure of is that in a fairly weak current class of shortstops, Hardy is one of the best out there. He's one of the most underrated players in the game and has been a key contributor to the Orioles over the past few years. It'd be nice to see him stick around in Baltimore beyond this season.
Andrew Stetka blogs about the Orioles for Eutaw Street Report. Follow him on Twitter: @AStetka. His thoughts on the O's appear here as part of MASNsports.com's continuing commitment to welcome guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. 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.