For the Baltimore Orioles, the shortstop has been a consistent position since J.J. Hardy has arrived, but his struggling defense and lack of offense has some wondering if Hardy should be benched.
All of those guys are nearing the end of their contract. Three of them are still playing at a high level while Hardy is not.
And so the question becomes, what do the Orioles do about that? This is likely going to be the last year of Hardy’s contract. There is a 2018 team option with a buyout, and that option vests at 600 plate appearances. As either the eighth or ninth hitter in the lineup, it is unlikely he sees four at-bats per game. However, even if he does, he needs to play in 150 games for that to happen.
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It is possible. So far, Hardy has played in 38 of the Orioles 41 games with 153 plate appearances. A full season, the average would give Hardy right around 150 games and have right around 600 plate appearances.
That requires Hardy to stay healthy, something he has struggled with. Hardy has only played in over 145 games in a season twice in his career, in 2012 and 2013 for Baltimore.
He also has struggled in general in 2017. Hardy is hitting .194/.237/.278 with 2 HR, one 3B, four 2B, 14 RBI, 10 runs, eight walks and 29 strikeouts. He is on pace for the most strikeouts in a season in his career. If he plays most of the season, he is also on pace for lows in doubles and home runs.
In the last two seasons, Hardy has played 114 and 115 games respectively. So to expect him to stay healthy is asking a lot.
A strong defender throughout his career, Hardy has four errors and again, is on pace for a career worst. In 2015 in 114 games Hardy made three errors all season long. In addition to the errors, Hardy clearly no longer has the arm strength to make some of the throws he used to, often being saved by the reach of Chris Davis at first base.
Would the Orioles put Hardy on the bench? I highly doubt it. Buck Showalter is too loyal to his veterans for that to happen.
However, if it did, what options are there?