Will J.J. Hardy's early injury affect a possible contract extension with the Orioles?

Ed Zurga

After two consecutive injury-free years, J.J. Hardy has been limited to just four games in 2014 due to back spasms. Could this affect the Orioles' desire to sign him to a contract extension?

When the Orioles traded for J.J. Hardy he had a bit of a reputation for getting hurt. He had missed time in both 2009 with the Brewers and 2010 with the Twins, and sure enough in 2011 with the Orioles he was sidelined for most of April and the first part of May with a strained oblique, then missed a handful of games in August with an ankle injury. When the Orioles approached him about signing a contract extension, Hardy was more than agreeable. He stated at the time that he was happy to have the stability after moving between three teams in three years, and you have to think that his injury history also played into the team-friendly deal he signed.

It turned out that after having an outstanding 2011 despite playing in only 129 games, Hardy most certainly left money on the table by not testing free agency. After playing two more valuable, and healthy, seasons, Hardy is now in the final year of his contract. One of the story lines this spring was the O's interest in extending Hardy again, though no deal was reached. When those stories came out but there seemed to be little progression between the two sides, I assumed Hardy was probably interested in seeing what he could get in free agency after 2014. He'll turn 32 years old in August so this may be his last chance to go after a big, multi-year deal. And he has three good seasons with the Orioles, the last two of which saw him play in 158/159 games, win two Gold Gloves and a Silver Slugger, and be elected into the All-Star Game.

But now Hardy has been injured for most of the 2014 season. After playing in the first three games of the season, he has missed all but one other game due to back spasms, and hasn't played April 5th. He hasn't been placed on the disabled list and the injury doesn't seem serious, but it could serve as a reminder that he's has had injury troubles in the past, not to mention that fact that he is a soon-to-be 32 year old playing the most difficult defensive position on the field.

So what does that mean regarding the Orioles' desire to extend him, or Hardy's possible interest in testing the free agent waters? Possibly nothing, especially since there are still 152 games left in the series. But let's speculate anyway.

Possibility 1 --The Orioles are no longer interested: The Orioles are dealing with Manny Machado's injury now, but they believe he'll recover fully, and that means that as soon as next year he could be a defensive wizard at shortstop instead of third base, so why should they commit valuable dollars to an aging shortstop? If Jonathan Schoop can get himself under control at third base, even better.

Possibility 2 -- The Orioles realize what they would be missing: It's no secret that the left side of the infield hasn't been as good without Machado and Hardy, never more evident than last night when, among other thing, shortstop Ryan Flaherty made a bad throw that turned an inning-ending double play into a run for the other team. Sure, they could move Manny to shortstop, but why do that when they could have both Manny and JJ over there?

Possibility 3 -- JJ realizes that a lot could happen between now and October: If Hardy was hoping to see what he could get in free agency, this early season injury could cause him to second guess that decision. If the Orioles are still interested in signing him to an extension, he might consider taking a sure deal rather than risking further injury before he has the chance to get his big payday.

Possibility 4 -- This means nothing: It's been six games! Surely that wouldn't cause either the Orioles or Hardy to think differently. Would it?

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