JJ Hardy has to be one of the most popular players in Baltimore, as he is well liked by fans, coaches, and his fellow teammates. But, does he have it in him this season to meet the requirements for his 2018 vesting option?
Hardy, 36, was traded to the Orioles from the Minnesota Twins in December 2010, with infielder Brendan Harris, and $500,000, in excahange for Brett Jacobson and Jim Hoey. In 2011, he agreed to a three-year, $22.5MM contract extension, and then in 2014, agreed to another three-year extension, this time worth $40MM. The most recent extension comes with a vesting option for the 2018 season, worth $14MM. Hardy does have a $2MM buyout option which is based off of plate appearances, or if he is traded.
A vesting option, as defined buy MLB.com, is an optional year at the end of a players contract that becomes a guarantee if the player reaches a certain incentive threshold. Usually the incentives are plate appearances, innings pitched, games started, or games finished.
In Hardy’s specific situation, as noted on Spotrac, and as pointed out to me by Editor-in-Chief of Orioles Uncensored, Dillon Atkinson, Hardy must reach 600 plate appearances in 2017. He had the option for either 600 appearances in 2017, or 1,150 over 2016-2017, however, he had 438 plate appearances in 2016, which would make the 600 plate appearance requirement the default.
Since joining the Orioles, Hardy has played in 816 games, has over 3,300 plate appearances, has hit .255/.296/.404/.700, and has hit 103 home runs, 155 doubles, two triples, and has driven in 361 runs.
He has started 814 games at shortstop for the Orioles, committed 46 errors, has turned 536 double plays, and has a fielding percentage of .987%. He’s a three-time Gold Glove winner, a two-time All-Star, and has captured one Silver Slugger award since coming to Baltimore. Ultimately, Hardy has locked down shortstop for the O’s more times than guys such as Cesar Isturis, Robert Andino, and Juan Castro combined.
For Hardy, he’s going to need to stay healthy this season, and he’s going to need to get as many plate appearances as possible. In 115 games last season, Hardy made 438 plate appearances, and in 114 games in 2015, he made 437. He’s made more than 600 plate appearances twice as a member of the Orioles. First, in 2012 (744), and in 2013 (644).
Injuries have limited Hardy’s plate time in more than one season since arriving in Baltimore.
In 2011, he missed 26 games due to an oblique strain. In 2014, he spent time on the DL due to a back injury. In 2015, he missed the first 25 games of the season due a torn labrum he suffered in Spring Training, and last season he missed 42 games when he fouled a ball off of his left foot.
Realistically, Hardy is going to need to play in about 150 games to hit 600 plate appearances for the Orioles to consider the option. Is it doable, well sure, he’s done it multiple times in his twelve year career. But is it plausible?
And if it does happen, how will the then 37-year-old Hardy fair in his fourteenth major league season. Will he stay healthy the entire season? Will he benefit the club in another run to the postseason?
Let’s get through 2017, hope JJ can play a full season, and contribute in any way possible to help the club get back to the postseason.