J.J. Hardy‘s time with the Baltimore Orioles is coming to a close sooner rather than later.
More specifically, the end will definitely come at the conclusion of the 2014 MLB season, when the veteran shortstop is slated to hit free agency, paving the way for emerging star Manny Machado to take over at the position where he was groomed in his minor league career and where he would be most valuable.
Not that the O’s will likely let Hardy walk, of course. He’d been linked to trade rumors before, and you can be certain that his name will continue to be thrown around this offseason as there are a good number of teams looking for a shortstop. Most recently, rumors suggested the St. Louis Cardinals turning down a Shelby Miller trade for Hardy, and talks like this will only intensify as other free agents come off the board and teams get a little more needy.
Whether the 31-year old will actually get moved prior to the start of next season, however, is a little more questionable.
See, while it’s almost certainly the case that the team will be trying to move him prior to the trade deadline in the summer of 2014, there are a few issues with doing so at the moment. Forget for a second that the pitching market is pretty topsy-turvy right now (Jason Vargas for four years … really?) and that the team is probably not going to get very much for the 31-year-old as far as getting back the arm that they’d want, the bigger issue lies with the kid who will be replacing him.
Or rather, it lies with the medial patellar tendon in his surgically-repaired knee, one that puts Machado’s Opening Day status for 2014 very much in doubt, even though the team is understandably hopeful that he’ll be ready.
Ready and productive are two different things, however, and an injury that someone can play through is still an injury. It would not be entirely out of the question that, as athletes who suffer significant injuries tend to do in any sport, he ends up feeling lingering effects of the ailment in the season after as game shape over a full season is a whole different animal than rehab shape.
It’s not to say that Machado can’t following up his stellar (well, except for July and September when he posted OPS numbers of .540 and .647 respectively prior to getting hurt) 6.2 fWAR season, but to peg the 21-year-old phenom as a sure thing to do so in 2014 would be overconfident — especially if he was to play a more demanding position like shortstop coming off the surgery and rehab.
Should there be any sort of health setback, the Orioles would find themselves short on infield depth to start the season, which is a major reason why they should hang on to Hardy.
As it stands now, the team would have to at least sign a backup for Machado at both third and short if they were going to trade the incumbent. Jhonny Peralta comes to mind, but he’ll require a multi-year contract similar to Hardy’s expiring deal; and if the long-term plan is to shift Machado over to short once he’s proven to be healthy, why not do it later in the year when a better long-term 3B option like Pablo Sandoval could be available on the trade market?
Besides hitting more home runs than just about every shortstop in the league and proving great defense, Hardy also serves the important purposes of being something of an insurance policy. Until the Orioles are certain that they can do without it (hint: not in the offseason), there are more reasons for them to keep something they might actually cash in as opposed to making a lateral move that could yield undesirable results.