BALTIMORE — With the trade deadline two weeks away and the possibility of multiple teams being after his services this offseason, shortstop J.J. Hardy decided he was having too much fun with the last-place Orioles this season.
The 28-year-old shortstop agreed to terms on a new three-year contract to remain with Baltimore through the 2014 season. Reports indicate the deal will pay him in the neighborhood of $22 million over the next three seasons and will include a limited no-trade clause. The deal is pending a physical and has not been officially signed.
“There are a lot of things I don’t have to worry about now,” Hardy said. “It’s definitely a relief, a big weight off my shoulders, and just worry about playing baseball now.”
His 13 home runs is third on the club despite missing a month of the season with a strained oblique muscle. While spending a significant portion of the season in the leadoff spot, Hardy’s .490 slugging percentage is tops among regulars in the Orioles lineup.
Hardy had represented the Orioles’ biggest trade chip, but 19-year-old prospect Manny Machado is a few years away from being ready to take over the shortstop position in Baltimore, prompting president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail to lock up one of the few bright spots of a disappointing season. Given Hardy’s injury history, he likely chose to avoid playing out the final two months of the season and risk an injury that could diminish his value.
“The biggest thing for me was the fact that I have been having fun here,” said Hardy, who admitted he and his agent had discussed possible teams seeking a shortstop this winter. “I like this clubhouse, I like this organization, and that was a big part for me.”
The fact that Hardy thought enough of his brief time with the Orioles to want to stay has to be a minor boost for an organization heading toward its 14th straight losing season. The shortstop wants to be part of a turnaround and hopes to be a major reason for it.
“Right now, it’s not going that well, but there is some potential,” Hardy said. “I feel like this team is a lot better than what we’ve been doing the last couple weeks. I like challenges as well as being competitive. I feel like it’s definitely a big challenge to turn this whole organization around. If I can help be a part of that, then great.”
Given the Orioles’ current stretch of nine straight losses and 23 defeats in their last 29 games, there’s been growing sentiment for the organization to sell off players and start the rebuilding process again. However, the Hardy signing means the club appears to be pushing forward with the current group of young players — for better or worse.
Right fielder Nick Markakis expressed his satisfaction with the Orioles locking up Hardy for the next three years. It was just over a year ago when the normally soft-spoken Markakis publicly questioned the direction of the organization before MacPhail hired Showalter to manager the Orioles in late July.
“It definitely means a lot to the club, the organization, and, most of all, the fans,” said Markakis, who applauded Hardy’s work in the leadoff spot for the injured Brian Roberts. “The fans have been been here a lot longer than I have and all the guys in this clubhouse. They deserve it more than anything.
“We’re working, we’re trying to climb that mountain. We’re on that way; it’s just a matter of time.”