Aug 25, 2013; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis (21) is congratulated by J.J. Hardy (2) after hitting a solo home run in the eighth inning against the Oakland Athletics at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Orioles defeated the Athletics 10-3. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

Hardy and Markakis should be off-season priorities.

The home run is quite possibly the pinnacle of American sport statistics. It is loud, impressive, ,unpredictable, and often used as a metaphor for success or perfection. Knowing this, it is incredibly important that the Orioles are not blinded by such a statistic when potentially negotiating with Nelson Cruz on a contract extension.

Cruz, who leads the Majors with 35 homers, is eligible for free agency following the 2014 season and recently made it public that he was approached about a possible extension with the club.

He has, for the most part, been the main run provider for the Orioles. Just as Chris Davis did in the 2013 season with his 53 home runs, Cruz is putting up numbers at a rate that has him seeing green.

While his value to this year’s ballclub is easy to recognize, the Orioles must realize that the money that Cruz may expect is better served to be redirected at other players.

Nick Markakis and J.J. Hardy are eligible free agents at season’s end, and would seem wise to invest in their services, which would likely come at a more affordable rate.

Home runs are emphatic and memorable, more so than turning two on a groundball in the hole from short, or drawing a 10-pitch walk with the heart of the order due up in a one-run game. However, home runs are also far more expensive (especially in modern baseball).

Dan Duquette is a smart man, who probably would agree with this concept. But the fact that Cruz has already been approached about an extension implies a level of interest that may involve a fat paycheck that could take away from other, equally valuable players.

The reliable defensive and offensive intangibles of Markakis and Hardy lack the flashiness of Cruz’s home runs, but they are equally valuable to a club poised to win it’s first AL East crown since 1997.

Markakis’ arm stops opposing batters from taking that extra base, and Hardy’s glove provides consistent outs that allow the Orioles’ pitchers better odds at eluding those big innings.

Markakis is an unspoken leader on and off the field and is irreplaceable atop the Orioles’ lineup. He provides the Orioles with an everyday player that rarely makes mistakes and sets the table for the Orioles’ run producers (including Cruz).

Though he has a club option for the 2015 season, the $17.5 Million price tag is far too pricy and will likely be avoided.

Hardy’s gold glove defense was most notable when he missed time with an injury, as the Orioles struggled to find adequate defensive replacements which costed them both runs and games. In addition, his value is even more significant with the possibility that Manny Machado no longer is in the Orioles’ plans as a shortstop.

Machado’s knee injuries may have the Orioles rethinking moving him back to his natural position at  shortstop. It is a position that is more demanding on the entire body, and the Orioles will likely have to think long and hard about exposing him to a position that may lead to further injury.

With a down offensive season, Hardy may  come at a discounted price, which could allow the Orioles flexibility with other transactions (including signing Cruz).

It would certainly be welcomed for the Orioles to resign Cruz, but others should be ahead of him on the priority list. Markakis and Hardy round out the Orioles’ top-ranked defense, and also provide effective offense at a more affordable price. Cruz, on the other hand, predominantly is just a hitter (a streaky one at that) that will likely cost more than Markakis and Hardy combined on a year-to-year basis.

Tags: Balimore Orioles Nelson Cruz

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