At shortstop, Hardy and a wealth of backups
Machado could find a home at position in future; minor leagues also have promise
The man: After every two-hit game or breathtaking defensive play, Orioles manager Buck Showalter would say the same thing: that J.J. Hardy was quietly a big contributor when the team needed it most.
How big? Well, behind third baseman Manny Machado, Hardy had the secondhighest wins above replacement among the team’s position players in the second half of the season, according to FanGraphs. Hardy was at 1.6, with Machado at 2.2. No other position player on the Orioles was worth a full win after the All-Star break.
The second half is most representative of what Hardy contributed this year, as he missed seven weeks in May and June with a fractured foot suffered when he fouled a ball off himself. Before that, he’d been hitting the ball hard but not finding results.
After the All-Star break, he settled into a groove to hit .273/.317/.410 with 22 extrabase hits. That gave him a season-ending line of .269/.309/.407 with nine home runs and 29 doubles.
By that FanGraphs WARmeasure, Hardy was the 20th-best shortstop in baseball with a 2.3 WAR, but where he delivered most of his value was in the field. His UZR/150, which credits and debits a fielder for the value of batted balls he turns into outs or allows to go for hits, then measures out their value over the course of a season, was 14.3, tied for sixth in the majors at shortstop.
Hardy might not have the same pop as he did when he was winning a Silver Slugger back in 2013, but there’s still plenty of value in a veteran shortstop steadying a pair of young rising stars on his flanks in Machado and second baseman Jonathan Schoop. It was valuable that he didn’t go in the tank in August and September offensively, too. The alternatives: When Hardy went J.J. Hardy signed a contract extension shortly before the 2014 playoffs that runs through the 2017 season, and he’ll likely remain an anchor at shortstop for the Orioles. down with his foot injury, the Orioles had quite a Plan B. There was a touch of Ryan Flaherty, and a little bit of Paul Janish, but Machado talked his way into playing shortstop the first game without Hardy and rarely relinquished it until Hardy returned.
Machado’s production at the plate hardly slipped during that time, and he more than held his own in the field. It will only fuel speculation that Machado could find a home there in the future, though he has more impact at third base.
Flaherty can play any position, but the team doesn’t like playing him at shortstop unless necessary. Janish, who was designated for assignment last Friday, has decided to become a free agent after being outrighted to the minors Thursday. The future: One of the best young bats in the Orioles system, Ryan Mountcastle, headlines the crop of shortstop prospects. In his age-19 season for Low-A Delmarva, Mountcastle hit .281 with a .745 OPS and 10 home runs.
At this stage in his development, Mountcastle’s promise is more tied to his bat than his position.
In his first full season for the Shorebirds, Mountcastle showed an advanced ap- proach at the plate as well as power potential. He also committed 21errors in105 games, and will need to improve his hands and his arm strength to remain at shortstop long term.
Mountcastle, one of the Orioles’ two 2015 first-round draft picks, isn’t the only high pick the club used on a shortstop. Adrian Marin, the team’s 2012 third-round pick, made it to Double-A Bowie this year after repeating High-A Frederick in 2015. He hit .232 with a .592 OPS and 19 extra-base hits in 119 games for the Baysox. Additionally, the team selected shortstop Alexis Torres in the fifth round of this year’s draft, though he had a rough first trip through the Gulf Coast League. Torres, 18, hit .183 in 37 games there. He split his time between second base and shortstop.
The last notable shortstop, Erick Salcedo, didn’t start his career with the Orioles but still has caught scouts’ eyes as a possible major league bench player. Salcedo, 23, hit .270 with 23 doubles in 131 games for High-A Frederick.
He came over in a spring training trade with the Los Angeles Angels for left-hander Chris Jones. The skinny: The contract extension Hardy
Utility infielder Janish chooses free agency
Utility infielder Paul Janish, who was designated for assignment last Friday, has decided to become a free agent after being outrighted to the minors Thursday.
Janish had cleared waivers and been outrighted to Triple-A Norfolk. But because he had a previous outright, Janish was able to refuse the assignment and become a free agent.
He hit just .194/. 286/. 226 in 14 games with the Orioles but provided valuable infield depth, especially at shortstop. This past season, Janish made nine of his 10 major league starts at third base when Manny Machado filled in at shortstop for J.J. Hardy in May and June.
In each of the past two seasons, Janish has been a valued depth piece for the Orioles, one of the first infielders summoned from the minors when they needed help at shortstop, second base or third base.
The fact that Janish has chosen free agency doesn’t mean he won’t be back in the Orioles organization. In each of the past two offseasons, Janish was designated for assignment, became a free agent and re-signed with the Orioles on a minor league deal.
Had the Orioles not designated Janish, he would have been arbitration-eligible. Last season, he was not tendered a major league contract by the club but remained with the organization. — Eduardo A. Encina signed just before the 2014 playoffs runs through the 2017 season, though there’s a team option worth $14 million that vests if Hardy makes 600 plate appearances next year.
The second provision that would make that vest, a total of 1,150 plate appearances between 2016 and 2017, will be nearly impossible to hit after he missed seven weeks this season.
It’s hard to assume health, but it would be an insult to Hardy to suggest he’ll play any harder or better because his time with the Orioles can come to an end.
What can be expected is that Hardy will be an anchor both in a lineup that could still be plenty volatile in 2017, and in the field, where Machado and Schoop can still take a lesson or two from their veteran mentor.