Judging whether to keep Hardy

I devoted a segment of my "O's Xtra" appearance on MASN yesterday to the possibility of the Orioles negotiating a contract extension with shortstop J.J. Hardy, and more specifically, whether it was too soon to consider making such a commitment. My friend Jeff Zrebiec at The Sun beat me to the punch today - after we teamed up to take two of three sets in doubles this morning - but I wanted to address the topic in blog form.
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The Orioles have held internal discussions about extending Hardy's deal, which runs out after this season. Hardy is earning $5.85 million this year. Free agency beckons.

I figured that the Orioles would wait until later this summer to approach Hardy about an extension, making sure that he stayed healthy and erased any concerns about his durability. Hardy missed a month this season with a strained oblique, he had two stints on the disabled list last season and he was limited to 115 games in 2009.

However, president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail seems intent on taking a more aggressive approach by initiating talks with Hardy's agent before the All-Star break. That's still a month away, but the longer he waits, the more tempting it becomes for Hardy to test the free-agent waters.

I was thinking August, but the middle of July works just fine.

Hardy had two more hits yesterday, raising his average to .287, and he was robbed of two hits - including his seventh home run - in Saturday night's loss to the Rays. He's reached base in 19 of his last 20 games since May 21. His .363 on-base percentage is currently the highest of his career.

He also makes a pretty good leadoff hitter.

Hardy is 6-for-16 (.375) with two homers since moving atop the order, and I'll repeat that there's no reason to lower him until Brian Roberts comes off the disabled list. And we don't know when that's going to happen.

Here's the stat that really blows me away: Hardy hasn't committed an error in 36 games. That's very impressive for a shortstop, especially one who's gone through almost as many double play partners as bags of sunflower seeds.

Manny Machado is the shortstop of the future, but he's down at low Single-A Delmarva. He's 18. He's in his first full professional season. It's going to take a few years before he arrives in Baltimore.

Hardy is a sturdy bridge.

I also like that he brings a cerebral approach to playing the game. If he's hurting, it won't be from a brain cramp.

If the talks don't go anywhere, Hardy can be traded at the non-waiver deadline. MacPhail's phone figures to be ringing. Or the Orioles could let him walk and take the compensation. But Hardy has blended nicely in the clubhouse, fitting in almost immediately. He's receptive to staying here.

He's certainly been worth the cost of acquiring him from the Twins - minor league relievers Jim Hoey and Brett Jacobson.

Meanwhile, I'm up to 3,100 followers on Twitter (@masnRoch). I forgot to retire at 3,000 and run that lap around the field.

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