SARASOTA, Fla. - Shortstop J.J. Hardy occupies the same locker in spring training this year, at the end of a long row of position players that includes most of the projected starters. He sat in a chair with his arms folded yesterday, scanning the room as he often does.
The scene appears familiar, but it’s a much different camp for Hardy after he signed a three-year extension in October. He’s not approached each day by reporters seeking updates on negotiations. He’s not simmering beneath the surface because of the stalled talks.
Hardy no longer is approaching free agency. He’s not one of the 11 in the room.
“It’s definitely nice knowing where you’re going to be,” he said. “I know last year I wondered the whole time if I was going to be here or going to be somewhere else next year. It’s just one less thing to think about. I think being able to just kind of focus on baseball and not really worry about any of that other stuff helps.”
Hardy said he doesn’t broach the subject with teammates who are in that boat, guys such as catcher Matt Wieters and first baseman Chris Davis who are represented by agent Scott Boras and seem certain to test the market. Good luck finding anyone who believes that they’ll sign an extension during the season. It’s never seemed like a realistic goal, especially with the Orioles reluctant to negotiate beyond opening day.
“I feel like they’re a little bit younger than I am,” Hardy said, explaining why he’s mostly stayed quiet. “You’re talking about Matt and Chris, they both have Boras as an agent and he kind of does a lot more decision-making. For me, I told my agent (Mike Seal), ‘I like it here. I want to stay here.’ So it was more about him trying to work it out so I could stay.
“I think their situations may be just a little bit different when it comes to that, but either way I think they’re in a good position for themselves and their families. For me, I signed here because we were good and I like what we have here, so I hope they stay.”
Hardy and center fielder Adam Jones, who dresses at the opposite end of the row, may question the wisdom of signing their extensions if the club is gutted by free agency. The Orioles weren’t aggressive in replacing Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz, counting on the returns of Wieters, Davis and third baseman Manny Machado to keep them in contention.
“Adam and I have both thought about that,” Hardy said. “I know Adam thinks about it a lot. I mean, losing Nick was big. He was one of the guys out there every single day with us. Obviously, we want to win and the reason we signed our extensions is because we like it here and we like the guys who were around, so if everyone starts leaving, I don’t know.”
Players may be able to ease their anxiety by trusting the process. The Orioles don’t spend big beyond raises for their arbitration-eligibles, but they’ve posted three straight winning seasons and twice made the playoffs.
“Yeah, but it’s with the same guys, you know?” Hardy said. “If those guys end up leaving, then I don’t know. The guys we’ve been winning with are the guys that are here, and if they leave, I don’t know. At some point, you’ve got to trust who’s in your clubhouse at this moment and why we’re winning.”
While Jones is more inclined to voice his opinion to management, Hardy said he hasn’t expressed his concerns to executive vice president Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter.
“When I signed, I trusted them that we were going to be doing everything we could to keep the guys who are helping us win. And it was more of a trust than me going and asking them, ‘Hey, are we going to do this or that?’ ” Hardy said.
“It’s not really my place. It was just more of a trust thing, I guess.”