Andrew Stetka: Hardy’s absence will create a new look in O’s infield

With J.J. Hardy set to become the latest member of the Orioles to make a trip to the disabled list, parts are going to continue to move for the Birds. It’s just the latest in a string of injuries that has recently included first baseman Chris Davis, along with the likes of Zach Britton and Darren O’Day out of the bullpen. Nothing new for the Orioles, but it could certainly spell new looks in the near and distant future.

We don’t know exactly how long Hardy’s injury will keep him off the field, but it will certainly mean playing time for someone else at shortstop. This could be a minor league call-up such as Paul Janish, who would need to be added to the 40-man roster. It could be Rubén Tejada, who replaced Hardy during yesterday’s game. The O’s could also choose to shift third baseman Manny Machado over to short, creating a whole new hole at the hot corner. With Ryan Flaherty on the disabled list and Robert Andino serving a suspension for violation of the minor league substance abuse policy, these are basically the options.

The Orioles should absolutely be focused on replacing Hardy in the short term. While it hasn’t looked like it of late, the O’s are still absolutely in the thick of a race for a postseason berth. It’s not even July yet, so very few teams are really out of it. Baltimore still has a chance to make waves if it can turn things around, and winning two out of three over the Cardinals this past weekend may very well be the start of that. It’s also important, however, for the Birds to start looking forward. Hardy is now two months away from his 35th birthday, and while there’s still a little bit of life in his bat, it’s just a very little bit. He’s hitting just .212/.246/.310 with three home runs this season. Depending on how long this injury keeps him off the field, it’s very likely now that it keeps him from reaching the required 600 plate appearances to see his 2018 option vest at $14 million. The Orioles don’t want to be paying a 35-year-old $14 million to be their shortstop next season. A few weeks ago, I wrote that the O’s may be forced to ride out Hardy’s struggles this year, but now it appears they’ve been given an out by way of his injury.

Some believe already that taking Hardy out of the lineup will actually help the Orioles, but there’s still the trick of replacing him. The Orioles could very easily move Machado over and get that production back and then some, but then they are simply robbing Peter to pay Paul. There’d still be a hole in the infield that needs filling. That’s where the O’s will be forced to get creative, not just for the immediate future, but for beyond 2017 as well. It’s also pretty important to remember that after 2018, that other position on the left side of the infield may need to be plugged, as well.

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.

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