With Opening Day just under four weeks away, we’ll take a look at a member of the 2015 Orioles every day as they try to defend their American League East title this season.
SS J.J. Hardy
Opening Day age: 32
Contract status: Under contract through the 2017 season with a vesting option for 2018
Minor-league options remaining: Need player permission to option due to five years of major league experience
2014 stats: .268/.309/.372, 9 HR, 52 RBI, 56 R, 0 SB, 569 PA
Why to be impressed: Despite back problems that lingered throughout the season, Hardy earned his third consecutive Gold Glove and still managed to appear in 141 games. His .268 average and .309 on-base percentage were his highest marks since his first season with the Orioles in 2011.
Why to be concerned: Back issues are the last thing you want to hear for a middle infielder on the wrong side of 30. The ailment zapped Hardy of his typical power as he hit only nine homers — his lowest total since 2010 — and collected only 37 extra-base hits after finishing with 52 or more in three straight seasons.
2015 outlook: Hardy spent the winter strengthening his core and declares his back to be better, which should allow his power to return after he failed to hit a homer until late June last year. His defense alone makes him very valuable and he’ll hit double-digit homers, but age and his back history make it unlikely that we’ll see the same level of offensive production from a few years ago.