The Baltimore Orioles have signed shortstop J.J. Hardy to a three year contract extension for somewhere between $22 and $22.5 million. On the surface, it seems like a strong deal. Hardy ranks seventh in wins above replacement among shortstops from 2007 -2011, and although he was pretty much acquired for a song (James Hoey and Brett Jacobson) from the Minnesota Twins during the offseason, he’s been one of the few bright spots on an otherwise disappointing Baltimore team.

Unfortunately for the Orioles, they compete in the American League East, and in addition to getting beat up by the typical powerhouses of that division, Baltimore is also losing out to their closest rival in the standings. One need look no further up the rankings than one spot to see why the team loses on this deal. Just as the Toronto Blue Jays remain directly in front of the Orioles, seven games up, the team’s shortstop Yunel Escobar, only three months younger than Hardy, remains ahead of Hardy in total WAR among shortstops  over the last five years.

Escobar recently extended his contract with the Toronto Blue Jays for two years at $5 million a season, with two additional options at $5 million a piece. Think about that for a second. The Blue Jays could end up paying less money for an extra year of service from a better player while taking on far less risk.

It should be mentioned that while the two year contract given to Escobar takes care of his final two seasons of arbitration, Hardy’s deal pushes back his first year of free agency to 2014. However, if the Blue Jays pick up the two options they negotiated with Escobar, it will push his first year on the market back to 2015.

There’s also more of a health issue with Hardy, who despite coming into the league two years before Escobar, has had 111 fewer plate appearances and has played in thirteen fewer games than the Blue Jays shortstop. And while the Hardy signing is believed to be somewhat of a stop gap measure until the highly rated 19 year old top prospect Manny Machado can take over at short, the signing epitomizes the difference in approaches between organizations in baseball’s toughest division.

While Boston and New York continue to spend money on quality talent that other teams can’t, the Rays and Blue Jays have looked for other means of competing, generally speaking, by acquiring the highest level of talent that they can at rates that they can afford. The Orioles meanwhile, seem stuck in an approach that doesn’t seem likely to work, operating in the same way as the Red Sox and Yankees, but using less money to acquire and hang on to lesser talent.

The problem with the Baltimore Orioles isn’t that they necessarily pick up bad players. They don’t. It’s that they acquire players that should round out the roster and fill in the gaps on contending teams. The Baltimore Orioles aren’t a contending team. And I don’t really understand how signing J.J. Hardy to a three year contract extension really gets the team any closer to that.

And The Rest

Trouble in paradise: Umpires Joe West and Angel Hernandez, who for the first half of the season combined to bring confrontational and incompetence to new levels, have been split up for the second half. The Platoon Advantage has kept track of that particular crew’s confrontational manner throughout the year, which reminds me that you should really by checking out TPA’s work on Getting Blanked over the weekend. It’s always quite exceptional.

Huh?

So, maybe Josh Hamilton was actually on to something.

The latest on Ubaldo Jiminez is that the Rockies, despite claims to the contrary, have approached a few teams, including the New York Yankees, about trading away his services.

I honestly don’t know what was cooler from this weekend: Ben Revere’s triple or Li’l Bautista’s first pitch.

C.C. Sabathia is going to once again merit some Cy Young consideration. Welcome to every single year.

Jim Bowden begs for a job in MLB by finding a reason to complement every GM in baseball.

Can’t we just all get along?

Oh yeah, Jim Hendry is exactly the guy you want to oversee the necessary overhaul of a team that he quite possibly won’t be the general manager of next year. Definitely.

Jim Thome chases records like heroin addicts chase dragons.

Jason Bay gets booed. Again.

How Rob Neyer got suspended from ESPN almost eleven years ago.

Finally, Tim McCarver might be somewhat error prone: