The timing of today’s announcement that the Orioles signed shortstop J.J. Hardy to a three-year extension, a day before Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, could best be described as a curiosity among reporters.
It made perfect sense to manager Buck Showalter, who sat with Hardy and executive vice president Dan Duquette during today’s press conference at Camden Yards.
“Is there ever a bad time to announce J.J. continuing as an Oriole?” Showalter asked. “I’d do it anytime. I’d do it in the fifth inning tomorrow. I think it’s a great thing for the Orioles and our fans.
“Real happy. I’m hoping he gets (three years) and beyond. I hope J.J. ends his career here. It makes us a better club, obviously. He’s been solid. You’re always looking for things you can count on, and you never take for granted what J.J. brings. It’s so hard to do. I said it before, I think he’s flashy in his own way because he’s not looking for attention. His biggest thing he wants to get out of a days work is a win. It’s sincere and it’s guys that you want to have someone like Manny Machado or Jonathan Schoop be around. He makes his teammates better and that’s hard to quantify.”
Duquette described Hardy as “a real stabilizing influence and force on the club since 2011.”
“He’s distinguished himself as one of the top defensive shortstops in the league and he’s contributed offensively among the elite at his position in the game,” Duquette said. “On a personal level, he’s one of the most dependable players I’ve ever been around, and I’m so happy for him that he’s decided to stay with the Orioles.”
Hardy could have tested the free agent market following the season, but he chose to sign his second extension with the Orioles.
“It crossed my mind, but at the same time this is where I wanted to be,” Hardy said. “There’s a lot of uncertainty in free agency. You don’t know what’s going to happen, but there were a lot of things that went into it.
“I knew that I liked it here, I knew that I liked playing with all my teammates. The whole coaching staff, I enjoyed playing for them. I believe that Dan, Buck, the Angelos family, they’re all going to continue doing everything they possibly can to make this organization better. And bottom line, it comes down to winning and I think we’ve got a good thing here.”
The two sides never held serious talks during spring training and there was no communication for most of the season. So, again, it comes back to the timing of today’s announcement.
“Why not now really?” Duquette asked. “When we looked at the market, we thought the best chance to sign J.J. was before he went to free agency, because he’s distinguished himself as one of the top shortstops in the league, and J.J. let us know that he wanted to continue his career here in Baltimore. So, this is something that we discussed at the Gold Glove dinner back in November. And we’re glad we got a deal with J.J. and he’s going to be in Baltimore.
“It’s part of the Angelos’ family commitment here, and wanting to field a competitive team year in and year out. And knowing that we have our shortstop here is comforting to us and our fans to know that J.J. is going to be back.”
Does today’s news end the speculation over Machado moving to short or Schoop changing positions?
“I’m not announcing the roster until 10 o’clock tomorrow morning,” Showalter quipped. “J.J.’s got a shot at being on it, though.
“We’ll still find something to talk about, but any time you can say, ‘OK, we feel like we’ve got a piece there...’ You try to solve as many of those things. We all think Manny’s going to be fine next year, but what if? But it’s comforting, not necessarily for me but for his teammates and his fans that he’s going to be here.”
At least seven of Hardy’s teammates sat in the back of the room during the press conference as a showing of support - Schoop, Matt Wieters, Nick Markakis, Chris Tillman, Ryan Flaherty, Zach Britton and Brian Matusz.
“J.J. is a leader on the team, as you heard from Buck, and he really does it by being available every day and making all the plays that come his way, and players that do that, day in and day out, that understand their job and can do it as well as J.J., they’re very, very difficult to find,” Duquette said.
“Put that together with his dependability, this is a really solid, special player for this city. We’re glad to have J.J. back. It’s just an opportunity to get this contract done going into the offseason and we’ll get a chance to announce it now before we start the LCS.”
“We’d like to have the best team we can have every year, and when you have the number of good players that are dependable, that your fans recognize, I think people see that you are walking the talk, and to have J.J. in the fold and being part of our team is important to us,” Duquette said.
“We have some other players, naturally, we’d like to have them with us, but we didn’t have the foundation to get the deals done now like we did with this one, but that’s something that we can address. We’ve got some other important things at hand right now, and we’d like everybody to focus on those things. We’d like to try to win the pennant, get to the World Series and do our best.
“Free agency starts right after the World Series. We’re focused on the job at hand, and that’s the most important thing. That’s the most important thing for everybody, I believe.”