The Orioles and shortstop J.J. Hardy have agreed to terms to a three-year, $40 million extension, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported this afternoon. They have since announced the deal.
Cross one 2014 free agent off the list. Hardy, upon conclusion of the Orioles' playoff run, was scheduled to become a free agent. They agreed to a three-year, $22.5 million deal back prior to the 2012 season. The Orioles initially acquired Hardy from the Twins in 2010, when Minnesota dealt him, along with Brendan Harris to Baltimore for Brett Jacobson (minors) and Jim Hoey.
Hardy will receive a guaranteed $40 million from 2015 to 2017, making an average of $13.3 million per season. However, $6.5 million of his $40 million will be put off to a later time, as his new contract includes that deferred money. Hardy will have a vesting option for 2018. It is based upon plate appearances.
The Orioles are still in the playoff race, but by no means should that mean they have to put off an extension with Hardy. Besides Hanley Ramirez -- who may not even stay at the shortstop position -- Hardy was the best shortstop of this upcoming free agent class. Now, the likes of Asdrubal Cabrera, Jed Lowrie, and Stephen Drew will become more valuable and may be overpaid because of it.
The Tucson, Arizona native was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in the second round of the 2001 MLB Draft. He got his first taste of the big leagues in 2005 with Milwaukee, when he hit .247/.327/.384 with nine home runs and 50 runs batted in in 427 plate appearances. In the 2009-2010 offseason, the Brewers dealt him to Minnesota for Carlos Gomez.
Since being traded again to the Orioles, Hardy has seemed to find his new home. At the conclusion of the 2016 season, Hardy will have spent more time with Baltimore than any other team in his career. Hardy's game has really changed since coming to Baltimore. In 2011, Hardy hit for a .801 OPS and hit 30 home runs in 567 plate appearances.
The home run totals remained in the mid-20s in both 2012 and 2013, but this season Hardy registered his lowest home run total since 2010, but his defense has continued to get better. The 32-year-old hit a .268/.309/.372 line in 569 plate appearances, but he homered just nine times.
Regardless, Hardy has still been a three to four win player during his stay in Baltimore (fWAR). This year, more than ever, Hardy relied on excellent defense to keep his WAR high. His 10 defensive runs saved and 13.9 UZR rank in the top five shortstops in the major leagues, with his UZR falling only behind defensive-wizard Andrelton Simmons. If Hardy was able to lower his strikeout rate (18.3 percent of plate appearances end in strikeouts), and provide better defense, he would be a much more all around player.
Teammate and outfielder Adam Jones voiced his support for Hardy (via ESPN.com).
"J.J. has been one of the best shortstops in baseball the last 3-4 years, and he's deserving,'' Jones said. "He could have gone to free agency and gotten more money, but it's not about the money. He's still going to be eating good, and he's happy here."
The Orioles locked up one of their most important pieces to their team for three more years. As the team is making a World Series run, J.J. Hardy, their All-Star shortstop, gets a nice big extension. He will be the shortstop in Baltimore now and into the future.