When the Orioles signed shortstop J.J. Hardy to a three-year, $22.5 million extension in 2011, many figured he’d eventually become trade bait because of the need to make room for Manny Machado. However, with those two co-existing just fine in the Baltimore infield, Orioles GM Dan Duquette told MASN’s Roch Kubatko he will approach Hardy about a new deal prior to Opening Day.
The 31-year-old Hardy will likely want a bigger contract this time around. He won his first Gold Glove in 2012 and then repeated last season. He’s also combined for 77 homers in his three seasons in Baltimore, easily the most in the majors among shortstops during that time frame. Next on the list is Troy Tulowitzki at 64. Hardy isn’t truly that valuable offensively — those homers have come with a .298 OBP — but the pop, durability and steady glove will lead to plenty of demand if he hits free agency.
With that in mind, Hardy could ask for a deal similar to the four-year, $53 million pact that Jhonny Peralta got from the Cardinals this winter. The two are the same age, and while Peralta’s best offensive seasons have easily outstripped Hardy’s, the historical difference between the two isn’t so great (Peralta has a career 101 OPS+, while Hardy is at 96). Hardy is probably the better player of the two after factoring in defense.
The Rays started Sergio Romo on back-to-back days and if that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. Romo, of course, was the star closer for the Giants for a while, helping them win the World Series in 2012 and ’14. He’s been a full-time reliever dating back to 2006, when he was at Single-A.
In an effort to prevent lefty Ryan Yarbrough from facing the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup (Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, Justin Upton), Romo started Saturday’s game, pitching the first inning before giving way to Yarbrough in the second. Romo struck out the side, in fact. The Rays went on to win 5-3.
The Rays did it again on Sunday afternoon, starting Romo. This time, he got four outs before giving way to Matt Andriese. Romo walked two without giving up a hit while striking out three. The Angels managed to win 5-2 however.
Despite Sunday’s win, Cozart wasn’t a happy camper with the way the Rays used Romo. Via Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Cozart said, “It was weird … It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion … It’s spring training. That’s the best way to explain it.”
It’s difficult to see merit in Cozart’s argument. It’s not like the Rays were making excessive amounts of pitching changes; they used five on Saturday and four on Sunday. The games lasted three hours and three hours, 15 minutes, respectively. The average game time is exactly three hours so far this season. I’m having trouble wondering how else Cozart might mean the strategy is bad for baseball.
It seems like the real issue is that Cozart is afraid of the sport changing around him. The Rays, like most small market teams, have to find their edges in slight ways. The Rays aren’t doing this blindly; the strategy makes sense based on their opponents’ starting lineup. The idea of valuing on-base percentage was scoffed at. Shifting was scoffed at and now every team employs them to some degree. Who knows if starting a reliever for the first three or four outs will become a trend, but it’s shortsighted to write it off at first glance.