The struggles of Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy this season have been well documented. In fact, I wrote about it around a month ago. The 33-year-old has had injury troubles and is in the midst of the worst offensive year of his life. However, on Sunday, ESPN's Buster Olney tweeted a statistic that surprised me quite a bit.
ELIAS: When J.J. Hardy has played in games this season, the Orioles are 53-44. When he's been out of the lineup: 15-29.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) September 13, 2015
This was tweeted prior to the O's Sunday night match-up with the Kansas City Royals. It was one in which Hardy did take part and the O's won. So, make it 54-44 with Hardy in the lineup. Color me shocked.
The origin of Hardy's value is obvious. He is terrific with the leather, sporting three Gold Gloves, and continues to provide a steady leadership figure in the middle of the diamond. But there is no getting around how down right terrible he has been at the plate in 2015. He is slashing .215/.246/.308 entering Monday's games.
During Hardy's intermittent absence, O's manager Buck Showalter has trotted Manny Machado out to shortstop to give him his first real taste of the position at the Major League level. That brings up the real question; what are the Orioles going to do at shortstop? Is it going to be Hardy, Machado or someone else?
The argument for removing Hardy
We talked about it just a second ago. Hardy is not cutting it with the lumber. This is the second consecutive year in which we have seen a significant decline in his power and it comes with a hefty price tag: $11.5 million in 2015, rising to a potential $14 million in 2018. There is probably a team out there looking for a veteran infield general that would be happy to have both Hardy and his salary in their locker room.
On the flip side, Machado has been fantastic all around this year. He leads the team with a WAR of 6.5, has 28 home runs and a UZR/150 of 8.3 at third base and 18.5 at shortstop. If the Miami native could maintain his offensive fortitude at shortstop he would instantly become that much more valuable to the squad.
And let's look down at the minor leagues for help. Sure, the system has not produced much as of late, but the team just drafted Ryan Mountcastle in the first round back in June. The kid was raking down in the Gulf Coast League. Plus, scouts all say he is more likely to be a third baseman rather than a shortstop. Let's just make that decision for him and get him up to Baltimore.
Things are going to stay the same
OK, back to reality. Consistency makes for a pretty boring article both to read and write. No one wants to hear about their team being stagnant. It's dumb, dull and probably the right thing to do.
Assuming that Machado would shift to short if Hardy were removed, go look at the impending free agent class at third base. Heck, even go for the one that follows next season. I will spoil it for you and tell you that this offseason features little-to-no star power and next offseason features a 36-year-old Adrian Beltre. Sure, the dude will probably still be a good player, but this is the team that didn't want to sign Nelson Cruz after he mashed pitchers for an entire season right in front of us.
And as for Mountcastle, there is no doubt that he is a talented teenager, but that is just the problem. He is still a kid. Mountcastle will be 19 years old at the beginning of the 2016 season and, sorry, he is no Machado. Defensively, he is raw. And at the plate it is going to take him some time to adjust at each level he plays. It is more likely that Hardy retires before Mountcastle is even ready to slip into the orange and black.
This season has been a horrible bump in the road for Hardy. Personally, I'm not against letting him get significantly more days off as the reason rolls to a close in order to ensure that he has a healthy offseason. Sure, the team is not mathematically eliminated yet, but the likelihood of a World Series run has greatly diminished this past month or so.
Give Hardy a rest and keep him as your starting shortstop heading into the 2016 season. If things continue on this path well into May or June next year, then a solution may need to be found. But until then, Machado at third and Hardy at short, even if he has to bat ninth every day.
That's what I think anyhow. Now I want to hear what YOU think, Camden Chat. What should the Orioles do at the shortstop position and with J.J. Hardy in particular? Let me know in the comment section or on Twitter @_TyYoung. Thanks for reading!