As if their first run to the American League Championship Series since 1997 wasn't enough to keep them busy, the Orioles got to work extending impending free agents Thursday.
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The O's and J.J. Hardy agreed to a three-year, $40 million extension Thursday with a club option that could keep Hardy in Baltimore through 2018. Hardy, 32, was set to become a free agent this winter and likely would have garnered a one-year, $15.3 million qualifying offer from the Orioles.
Instead, the Orioles will hold onto the incredibly reliable-if-unspectacular shortstop for the foreseeable future. Over his four years in Baltimore, Hardy has produced WARs of 4.3, 2.7, 3.4 and 3.4, respectively. Before this season, he hadn't had fewer than 22 home runs and 68 RBI in any of his first three seasons as a member of the O's.
Despite the allure of testing his market value, Hardy said he wanted to stay in Baltimore.
"[Free agency] crossed my mind, but at the same time this is where I wanted to be," Hardy said. "I knew that I liked it here, I knew that I liked playing with all my teammates, the whole coaching staff, I enjoyed playing for them. I believe that Dan, Buck, the Angelos family -- they're all going to continue doing everything they possibly can to make this organization better and bottom line, it comes down to winning and I think we've got a good thing here."
Though this year marked a downturn for Hardy offensively -- his nine home runs were tied for the fewest in his career in a season in which he got at least 400 plate appearances, just one number of what was an across-the-board step backward at the plate -- Hardy still provided stellar defense, something he's done throughout his career. In fact, per FanGraphs' Def metric that measures a player's defense, Hardy's 20.4 runs above average in 2014 was the highest of his career. Hardy ranked behind only defensive whizzes Andrelton Simmons, Billy Hamilton and Chase Headley in that statistic.
With Hardy off the market, the free agent class at shortstop loses one of its few viable everyday starters at the position. The other options include Hanley Ramirez, Jed Lowrie, Stephen Drew and shortstop-turned-second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera. Of those, at least HanRam is likely to receive a qualifying offer from his club.
While Thursday's deal was the only one consummated, the Orioles aren't done negotiating. Discussions with two more free agents-to-be, Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis, are expected to be next on the docket for general manager Dan Duquette. Both will be candidates for the aforementioned qualifying offer if a deal can't be reached.
Dodgers Eyeing Friedman?
A team with one of the highest payrolls could soon pursue one of the league's most resourceful general managers.
Rumors have begun to swirl that the Dodgers, who were recently eliminated despite a $229 million payroll in 2014, may let general manager Ned Colletti go. It may be the only high-profile move the team makes, as manager Don Mattingly is believed to be safe.
A replacement for Colletti could be the Rays' Andrew Friedman. Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times reports Friedman "appears to be" the Dodgers' top choice for the job if and when they give Colletti the ax.
Unlike Colletti, who handed out large contracts to mediocre talents and took on a number of high-priced players in a trade with the Red Sox two years ago, Friedman built the Rays into a perennial contender by drafting and developing talents while trading away potentially costly assets in exchange for more young, cost-controlled players. That resourcefulness was born out of necessity -- the Rays' payroll was one-third that of the Dodgers this past season -- but it would be a welcome change for a Dodgers organization that has struggled to produce major league contributors from its own system in recent years.
Whoever takes over for Colletti will have some work to do, as the Dodgers still have $190 million on the books for next year, and that's before arbitration raises. Joc Pederson, Julio Urias and Corey Seager offer hope that some reinforcements are on the way. With Friedman at the helm, they could be the first of many.
Championship Series Notes
Although some personnel moves dominated the headlines Thursday, there is actually some baseball still to be played this year.
The Orioles did the expected Thursday, announcing Chris Tillman will be their starter for tonight's Game 1. He'll be opposed by James Shields for the Royals. Orioles manager Buck Showalter hasn't announced who will start Saturday's game. Left-hander Wei-Yin Chen got that distinction in the Orioles' ALDS showdown with the Tigers.
Showalter also confirmed that suspended slugger Chris Davis won't be on the roster for the ALCS. Davis' suspension runs through the first five games of the series -- or rather, through the Orioles' next five games, should the series not go five games -- so he wouldn't be a factor until Game 6 at the earliest. The Orioles would have to play a man down on their bench for the first five games if Davis were to be on the roster.
In the other series, the Cardinals have expressed optimism at Adam Wainwright's readiness for Game 1 on Saturday. It's still unclear whether he'll have to face Michael Morse, who will be on the Giants' roster after dealing with an oblique injury that kept him out for most of the month of September. One hitter Wainwright will have to deal with is Madison Bumgarner, who will start opposite Wainwright in that Game 1.
Quick Hits: Though Cruz and Markakis are on the Orioles' radar, a deal doesn't appear imminent with either. Cruz said he hasn't had any "serious" talks with the club, and Duquette said the organization is focused on the task at hand when asked about more extensions at Hardy's press conference Thursday ... Omar Infante could have minor shoulder surgery over the offseason following the Royals' playoff run. The second baseman has been dealing with some level of discomfort since spring, but it doesn't sound like the type of procedure that would keep him from being ready for next year ... Despite a subpar 2014 season, "people close to" A.J. Burnett expect him to pitch next season. The 37-year-old has a $12.75 million player option he can exercise to stay with the Phillies ... The A's released Adam Dunn to make room on the 40-man roster. Dunn, 34, announced his retirement after the Athletics' elimination from the postseason last week.