At short­stop, Hardy and a wealth of back­ups

Machado could find a home at po­si­tion in fu­ture; mi­nor leagues also have prom­ise

Baltimore Sun - - MLB PLAYOFFS - By Jon Me­oli With the 2016 sea­son fin­ished, there’s no bet­ter time than the present to take stock of the Ori­oles’ or­ga­ni­za­tional depth at ev­ery po­si­tion around the di­a­mond. We’ve been break­ing down ev­ery po­si­tion in­di­vid­u­ally and sep­a­rat­ing the play­ers a

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.

BRIAN BLANCO/GETTY IM­AGES

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