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J.J. Hardy: the best shortstop in baseball?

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I didn’t see this, but reliable correspondents tell me that Billy Ripken was on MLB Network a few minutes ago and said that J.J. Hardy was the best shortstop in baseball. The general idea was that he was reliable and played every day and “started the 6-4-3 double play.” Which, man, if he didn’t do that he’d be fired for not carrying out his job responsibilities. Or at least would get written up by his supervisor.

But I’m not sure on what planet that makes him the best in the game. He’s reliable and sure-handed and has some pop, but I think I’d take Troy Tulowitzki, Andrelton Simmons, Hanley Ramirez, Ian Desmond and maybe a couple of others over him. Long term his teammate Manny Machado is a better bet at shortstop than Hardy is.

Which isn’t to slight Hardy. Just to say that this is the flipside of that stuff I talked about with Alfonso Soriano yesterday. Just as we seem to have a hard time talking about some players without being negative due to things like contracts and expectations, there are some players we can’t seem to praise without going crazy and talking about them in terms that are wild exaggerations. Ask Michael Young — also a very good player — who has been talked up as the best or one of the best far too much. Doesn’t take away from what he is, but certainly distorts the conversation about him.

Is it a TV thing? Are you trained as an analyst to say extreme things like “J.J. Hardy is the best shortstop in baseball” because saying “J.J. Hardy is good and solid” is considered too boring? Is this just an ex-ballplayer thing? I dunno. But I feel like we have a tremendous difficulty, overall, properly assessing most ballplayers due to a tendency to say some are the best ever and some are the worst ever while ignoring the fact that the vast, vast majority of ballplayers fit in neither category.

Orioles plotting late-offseason push? Gallardo, Fowler, Alvarez, Bruce in consideration

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Baltimore’s front office appears to be lining up a run of potential roster additions leading into the beginning of spring training.

We’ve already passed along the reports suggesting they are close to a three-year deal with free agent starter Yovani Gallardo, but now FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal adds that free agent outfielder Dexter Fowler could be next on the Orioles’ target list. It they get those two deals done, the O’s could then chase free agent slugger Pedro Alvarez.

Rosenthal says the Orioles are even eyeing Jay Bruce of the Reds, though the FOX reporter hears the O’s might not have the prospects to pull off that kind of trade.

The focus for the Orioles out of the gate this winter was re-signing Matt Wieters and Chris Davis. Wieters accepted his one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer in November and Davis was locked up to a seven-year, $161 million contract in mid-January.

Now the O’s are spending a little leftover cash on late-offseason additions to improve their position in what should be a tight 2016 American League East race.

Brandon Belt signs $6.2 million deal, avoiding arbitration with Giants

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In a last-second compromise before a scheduled heading today, first baseman Brandon Belt and the Giants have avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $6.2 million deal.

Belt requested $7.5 million and the Giants countered at $5.3 million, so they’ve settled slightly on the team-friendly side of the midpoint. Belt will be arbitration eligible again next season for the final time before hitting the open market as a free agent.

He’s coming off a very good season in which he hit .280 with 18 homers and an .834 OPS in 137 games and Belt has a lifetime .803 OPS through age 27, making him one of MLB’s most underrated all-around first baseman.

Orioles sign ex-Padres reliever Dale Thayer

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Right-hander Dale Thayer and the Orioles have agreed to a minor-league contract that includes an invitation to spring training.

Thayer had a rough 2015 season for the Padres, posting a 4.06 ERA and spending time in the minors, but he was a solid part of San Diego’s bullpen from 2012-2014 with a combined 3.02 ERA and 173/50 K/BB ratio in 188 innings.

At age 35 there’s no guarantee that Thayer will look good enough to claim a spot on the Opening Day roster, but he’s got a strong chance to wind up pitching middle relief for Baltimore.

Phillies acquire Taylor Featherston from Angels

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Taylor Featherston, who was designated for assignment by the Angels last week, has been traded to the Phillies for a player to be named later or cash.

Featherston stayed in the majors with the Angels for all of last season due to being a Rule 5 pick from the Rockies organization, but the 25-year-old infielder hit just .162 in 169 plate appearances.

He’s been much better in the minors, but nothing about his track record there screams quality regular and the Phillies are likely viewing him as a defense-first bench option for now.