Could the Orioles have turned J.J. Hardy into Colby Rasmus?

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The Orioles would have had far-and-away the best shortstop available in trade talks this month if they didn’t sign J.J. Hardy to a three-year, $22.5 million extension two weeks ago.  The 28-year-old Hardy has had a terrific season in his first year in Baltimore, hitting .275/.325/.510 with 18 homers in 298 at-bats.

And extending Hardy was a defensible decision.  The Orioles have a top shortstop prospect in 2010 first-round pick Manny Machado, but he’s probably two years away from the majors.  Hardy was a better choice to bridge that gap than anyone who would have been available in free agency this winter, and he signed for a reasonable $7.5 million per year.

Still, I can’t help but think that Colby Rasmus would look awfully good in left field for Baltimore, and it’s quite possible that the Cardinals might have been willing to part with him for J.J. Hardy and Jeremy Guthrie.  While Guthrie isn’t quite as good of a bet as Edwin Jackson, he does have a 4.18 ERA in the AL East this season.  Hardy would have a great fit at shortstop for the Cards, and he has 250 points of OPS on Rafael Furcal this year.

But the Orioles passed up the chance to cash in Hardy.  In their defense, that hole at shortstop is hard to fill and they now have a pretty good option there, if one who is a bit injury-prone, through 2014.  I just think that when a team in Baltimore’s position has a chance to rope in a player with star potential, it has to do whatever it takes.

Clayton Kershaw might return to the Dodgers’ rotation next week

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Dodgers southpaw Clayton Kershaw is nearing his return to the mound, according to club manager Dave Roberts. Both Kershaw (left biceps tendinitis) and fellow lefty Rich Hill (left middle finger blister) are scheduled to toss simulated games on Saturday; depending on the outcome, Roberts says Kershaw could forgo a minor league assignment and slot back into the rotation by Thursday.

Kershaw, 30, was diagnosed with biceps tendinitis as the team closed out their Mexico Series at the start of the month. He has not made a start in several weeks, but was finally able to resume throwing on Sunday and managed to get through two successful bullpen sessions. Though Dodgers’ ace hasn’t been completely injury-free over his 11-year career in the majors, this is the first significant issue he’s had with his pitching arm so far. The team is expected to take every precaution with the lefty, and will likely limit him to just four innings during Saturday’s simulated game.

Prior to his injury, Kershaw was working on another dominant run with the club, sporting a 2.86 ERA, 2.0 BB/9 and 9.8 SO/9 through his first 44 innings of the season. While Kershaw, Hill and left-handed starter Hyun-Jin Ryu served their respective terms on the disabled list this month, the Dodgers utilized a combination of relievers Ross Stripling and Brock Stewart, both of whom impressed during their limited time in the rotation.