Hardy, who has a club option for 2018, would have been a free agent this offseason had executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette and the rest of the front office not completed the $40 million deal, which was quite a stunner. After talks stalled in the spring, Hardy respectfully declined to discuss things as the season progressed, as the mild-mannered infielder didn't want to be a distraction. All along, however -- and ever since Duquette and Hardy first talked about the possibility at November's Gold Glove Award dinner -- the shortstop wanted to stay in orange and black.
"[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."
The Orioles, who are four wins from the World Series, have come this far without Matt Wieters
and Manny Machado
, and Chris Davis
is currently serving a 25-game suspension. How have they been able to do it? A big part of it has been Hardy, a fan favorite who has been a mainstay in the O's infield.
"Well, J.J. is a leader on the team, as you heard from Buck, and he really does it by being available every day and making all the plays that come his way," Duquette said. "And players that do that, day in and day out, that understand their job and can do it as well as J.J., they're very, very difficult to find. And put that together with his dependability, this is a really solid, special player for this city."
Of all of the Orioles' pending free agents -- a group that also includes Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis -- Hardy was the one the Orioles prioritized most highly. The Gold Glove Award winner captains the team's infield -- particularly without Machado -- and has been a rock at shortstop.
"Every good team out there, they have a good group of core players. And he's a guy that the Orioles felt could fit in for three more years here and do the same thing he's been doing," said Markakis, who was among the players on hand for the presser. "He's earned it. He's done more than enough to be recognized as a great defensive shortstop with power that can hit. He's everything that you want as one of our primary positions on the field. As important as it is, he plays it better than anyone out there. He's a guy that deserves it."
Hardy, acquired from the Twins in December 2010 by former president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail, signed a three-year, $22.25 million extension with Baltimore in July 2011, a deal that included incentives for being an All-Star, Gold Glove winner and Silver Slugger winner. Considered one of the best defensive shortstops in the Majors, Hardy would have commanded a hefty salary on the open market.
"He's a leader in the clubhouse," Orioles closer Zach Britton said of Hardy, who has a .259/.301/.420 slash line in four seasons with the O's. "He's not a guy that's too vocal, but he goes out there and just plays hard every day. So, he was one of the guys we were hoping to get back. To work something out with him I think is important. To keep a guy who is a leader, the middle of our infield intact -- you got Manny who is young, [Jonathan] Schoop who is young, and they lean on J.J. and I think people overlook that a little bit, how much he helps these guys to mature at these positions. For me, gosh, he makes so many good plays that I couldn't imagine not having him at shortstop as a pitcher."
With Cruz and Markakis -- who holds a club option that will likely be declined -- set to become free agents this November, does Duquette have any more postseason surprises? It doesn't appear so.
"We're focused on the job at hand, and that's the most important thing," Duquette said. "That's the most important thing for everybody, I believe."