- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
Not to play the role of rushing to judgment too much, but I think the shoulder injury Baltimore Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy is dealing with is yet another reason to believe the fellow we used to rely on for mid-20s power is not coming back anytime soon. In a way this is sad, right? Hardy is but a mere 32 years old and his best days are clearly behind him. Sure, a baseball player’s career is hardly like that of a normal person's in its length, and the money they make in a short amount of time is extreme, but still, it’s kind of sad. Anyway, even when Hardy was supposedly healthy a month ago I didn’t really expect 20 home runs, a number he’s reached five times in a productive 10-year run. Now? After a season in which he couldn’t reach double-digit home runs as he dealt with injuries and dropping contact rates, I wouldn’t draft him at all in a standard 10-team league.
The first question I’ve been seeing in relation to Hardy’s future has generally been the wrong one to ask. No, I don’t think third baseman Manny Machado, formerly a shortstop in his teenage years, moves back there. He’s a really special defender at third base, and the last thing he needs, after missing half of the 2014 season with knee woes, is to deal with a position change. That's true even if he would, in theory for real life and fantasy, be more valuable at shortstop. Those in dynasty formats or even redraft ones looking for multieligibility aren’t going to get it. Machado is worth a top-100 overall pick. I admit I’ve been a bit down on him overall, but I am hoping this great talent figures it out and most of all stays healthy. Hey, I’d take him in a draft today over Kris Bryant. Of course, I might not be the person to ask on that one.
Actually, the question fantasy owners should be pondering with Hardy likely to miss April due to his latest ailment is about the bushels of stolen bases former San Diego Padres infielder Everth Cabrera is on his way to compiling, even if it’s just in a short-term fill-in role. Say what you will about Cabrera, a former Rule 5 pick entering his seventh season: He’s not much of a hitter, really, possesses no power and isn’t nearly on Hardy’s Gold Glove level defensively, either. But Cabrera can run. Thanks to injuries and poor decision-making off the field, Cabrera has averaged a paltry 100 games played the past three seasons, but in that span, he totaled 99 stolen bases. You know how many guys have 100 steals since the start of 2012? Only seven players achieved this. and most played quite a bit more than Cabrera.
If you’re in an AL-only format, I’d assume Cabrera was already chosen. He should have been, at the least. If you’re in a deeper mixed league, he’s probably out there. He is capable of swiping double-digit bases in April. Why can't this guy be one of the "steals" of the season and swipe 30-plus? He's done it before. It’s problematic whether Cabrera gets to keep on playing after April ends, but I always thought this was the perfect place for him to land as a free agent. I don’t think we can assume Hardy returns that soon and stays on the field. Plus, second baseman Jonathan Schoop was clearly rushed to the majors last season, and it showed as he hit .209. There’s no imminent talk of him heading to the minors as with Chicago Cubs slugger Javier Baez, but the point is Schoop needs to improve to play, especially if Cabrera plays really well. And Machado at third, no matter how much we like him and root for him, he missed half of 2014. I think Cabrera is better -- and different -- than Ryan Flaherty, and the Orioles likely agree. Each could play.
Speedster Cabrera ready to run with Hardy out and playing time assured