The Orioles have two players on the current roster who signed long-term deals with the club back in 2014: Right-hander Ubaldo Jiménez inked a four-year, $50 million deal with the Orioles prior to the beginning of the 2014 campaign, and shortstop J.J. Hardy signed a three-year, $40 million extension with the club in the middle of the 2014 American League Championship Series. The contracts for both Jiménez and Hardy expire at the end of this season, unless Hardy’s $14 million option for 2018 is exercised.
At the time, both of these contracts seemed like pretty darn good deals for the O’s. But I’ve been wondering: Just how good - or bad - have these two contracts been for the club? I’ll take a look at each player’s value - according to FanGraphs.com - for the duration of their contracts to this point, the importance their roles play for the team and what type of season they’ll need to have in 2017 in order to make the contract amount worth it in the end for the Birds (assuming they haven’t already surpassed their individual contract’s total value). The way FanGraphs has calculated value is by having 1 Win Above Replacement (WAR) equal around $8 million in dollar value.
For Jiménez, FanGraphs has his WAR in his first three seasons in Baltimore as 0.4, 2.6 and 1.7, respectively, to equal 4.7 total, which is worth the dollar value of $37.4 million over the first three years. He has mostly been remembered for his poor outings in Baltimore, but he has had streaks of being arguably the best pitcher in the O’s rotation, specifically when he recorded a 2.81 ERA in the first half of the 2015 season and a 2.82 ERA in the second half of 2016. So if you’re puzzled as to why his value is that high, these two halves of separate seasons certainly help his case. Without his strong second half of last season, the Orioles probably don’t make the playoffs. To be worth the $50 million, he’d need to be worth $12.6 million this season, which is about 1.6 WAR. Keep in mind the Orioles gave up a first-round draft pick to sign Jiménez. So for me, I’d put the bar at about 2.0 WAR. If he can go out and produce results somewhere between his 2015 and 2016 numbers, this deal doesn’t look as bad as it seems for the O’s.
Hardy’s contract came as a surprise at the time. Many thought he’d hit the open market and land a contract for more years and money than the Orioles actually extended him for. But now, even though the Birds got him back on what looked to be a steal, have they received back the value in which they paid for? Hardy had 0 WAR and 2.3 WAR in 2015 and 2016, respectively, which FanGraphs has equaling $18.5 million in dollar value. The veteran shortstop’s defense is still above average, but his hitting has been declining and he played no more than 115 games in each of the last two seasons. So far, the Orioles have paid a little over $8 million more than FanGraphs’ model suggests Hardy has been worth. But there’s more that goes into this. Hardy’s been a steady defender despite the decline in his hitting. If the O’s chose to let him walk, move Manny Machado to shortstop, then pay big bucks for Pablo Sandoval or Chase Headley to cover the hot corner, things could’ve gotten pretty ugly. In dollar value alone, Hardy would need to put up a 2.7 WAR campaign this season in order to be worth the money paid for the contract. But because he has been a good defender at shortstop and is hitting in the nine-hole - as opposed to when he hit somewhere in the top-six in the order from 2011-14 - something around a 1.5-2.0 WAR season makes this deal worth it for the Orioles.
After this season, do I think the best option for the Orioles is to move on from both Jiménez and Hardy? More than likely, yes. They may be starting a rebuild after this season and/or will be moving Machado over to shortstop. But that doesn’t mean the contracts haven’t been worth it for the O’s. Chances are, neither one of these two reach the WAR they’ll need to achieve for the contracts to mathematically be worth it for the O’s. But due to Jiménez’s half-a-season-long surges and Hardy’s steady, reliable glove at short, these deals don’t look so bad after all.
Dillon Atkinson blogs about the Orioles for Orioles Uncensored. Follow him on Twitter: @DAtkinsonOU. 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.