Dillon Atkinson: Do Ryan Flaherty and J.J. Hardy have secure spots once activated?

With the great production coming from the shortstop position in the last week, you may have forgotten that Orioles infielders Ryan Flaherty and J.J. Hardy are going to be returning to the ballclub this month, barring any setbacks. Flaherty, who has been on the disabled list since May 19 with a right shoulder strain, is currently rehabbing at Double-A Bowie. His rehab assignment ends August 15, but manager Buck Showalter hopes he’ll be ready to go sooner. Hardy was placed on the shelf June 19 with a right wrist fracture, and Showalter thinks he will be ready by August 18.

The question I have is this: Do Flaherty and Hardy get their respective roles back when they are activated? Flaherty’s case is for whether or not he is a candidate to be designated for assignment. Hardy’s is for whether or not he will get his starting spot back at shortstop.

Flaherty’s competition is current backup infielder RubĂ©n Tejada. Now, it is certainly possible that Showalter keeps both. But if in a roster crunch, and one has to go, who would be the better option to keep around? Neither is necessarily impressive with the bat, but you don’t have to be an above-average hitter if you’re a backup infielder. Tejada plays three positions - second base, shortstop and third base - and plays all three fairly well. Flaherty also plays those three, but also plays first base and the corner outfield spots. But he really only plays second base and third base at an above-average level, which just so happens to be the two positions where the best players on the club, Jonathan Schoop and Manny Machado, are. This isn’t a franchise-changing decision by any means, but you could make the case that Tejada is the most valuable to the club between the two. Down the stretch, I’d have to imagine Schoop and Machado aren’t taking any days off if they’re healthy, so having the best shortstop available could be the better move.

Hardy’s competition is current starting shortstop Tim Beckham. The former first overall draft pick has been off to an amazing start since being acquired by the Orioles from the Rays on July 31, slashing .500/.515/.938 in his first eight games with the club, increasing is total season slash line to .281/.332/.456 with 15 homers. Despite having one potential double-play ball go between the wickets on Thursday evening against the Tigers, Beckham has played a pretty decent shortstop defensively. When the Orioles acquired Beckham, Showalter noted that he’d be the starting shortstop in Hardy’s absence, but that Hardy would get his starting position back once he is healthy. Hardy was a disappointment this season prior to hitting the disabled list, batting .211/.248/.308 with three homers in 64 games for the Birds. Would Showalter stick to the seniority on the club even if Beckham is hands down the better option?

It seems like Hardy may not be too far behind Flaherty when it comes to being activated off the disabled list. So the decision between Flaherty and Tejada may not matter more than a week if Hardy returning ends up forcing both off the roster. The biggest question of them all is who starts at shortstop during the final month-to-month-and-a-half stretch. Showalter has already committed to Hardy, but Beckham may force his hand if he continues to stay hot at the plate. If the Orioles are still in the playoff race, I’m not sure you can easily go back to Hardy if Beckham starting at shortstop has played a huge role in the O’s staying in the race.

Showalter is going to have tough decisions to make with Flaherty and Hardy once they are activated, especially with Hardy. Beckham could very well be the better player to start at shortstop, but Showalter - and maybe even the Orioles players - may have a commitment stronger than that to Hardy, who has been a leader in the clubhouse since he was dealt to Baltimore in 2011. It remains to be seen what the Orioles skipper will do at the shortstop position for the remainder of the season. But there is one conclusion that might be safe coming to: With Beckham being under team control through 2020 and Hardy being in his contract year, the Orioles may have already decided who they’re rolling with at shortstop for 2018 and beyond.

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.

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