It’s too bad that Aaron Hill’s tenure as Blue Jays had to come to this – a “chance of scenery” trade that saw Toronto bring in likely nothing of long-term value so that Hill could have an opportunity at postseason success and to hit the refresh button on a stalled career.
On Tuesday, the Jays sent fan favourites Hill and John McDonald to Arizona in exchange for Kelly Johnson, who is essentially a Hill clone. Both second baseman are 29 years of age (Johnson is one month older), both men are teetering near the Mendoza line in terms of offensive production this season and both men are eligible for free agency after this season (as is McDonald) while making similar money.
So why bother making a deal in which all three participants could find themselves elsewhere in two months time?
Well, loyalty. Alex Anthopoulos wanted to offer Hill a spark to get his career on track. He could find that spark with the Diamondbacks, who are in the thick of the NL West pennant race and will be given the playing time to get his stroke back. He and McDonald, who has playoff experience, will also provide the young D-Backs with an extra pair of positive, likable clubhouse leaders while offering superior defence to a middle infield stung by the loss of SS Stephen Drew.
Some fans and even those within the organization were hoping to see Hill bounce back, but the contract complicated matters. I’ll bet even Anthopoulos, who certainly isn’t averse to reclamation projects and who greatly respects Hill, would have been happy to keep the second baseman around, but he simply couldn’t justify picking up an option that would have been worth $8 million. Instead, he gets 34 games to see if Johnson is worth keeping around to bridge the gap before Adeiny Hechavarria can take over full-time.
Johnson’s fall is eerily reminiscent of Hill’s – with one significant difference. Johnson’s 2010 campaign (.284 average / .370 OBP with 26 homers and 71 RBI) shares much in common with Hill’s 2009 season (.286 average / .330 OBP with 36 homers and 108 RBI), with Johnson getting on base more consistently but Hill getting the edge in power numbers. Similarly, their 2011 numbers are an equal eyesore (Johnson’s .209 /.287/18/49 to Hill’s .225/.270/6/45). The difference comes in Johnson’s surprisingly superb .412 slugging percentage, nearly a hundred points higher than Hill’s .313 mark. The spacious Rogers Centre should help Johnson maintain a similar slugging level.
While loyalty played a central role in Toronto’s end of the deal, this wasn’t a charitable gift to Hill, McDonald and D-Backs GM Kevin Towers. In addition to the possibility that Johnson could produce amidst his new surroundings, he also has a shot at Type A free agency. The distinction, after all, is made based upon the value of your previous two seasons of major league service, meaning that while Hill’s status goes back only as far as his also-lacklustre 2010 campaign, Johnson still may attain type A status thanks to a strong 2010 in which he finished fourth among second basemen in home runs, fifth in RBI and batting average and third in on-base and slugging percentage. Even this season, Johnson ranks a respectable fifth in homers and ninth in slugging percentage at his position.
- Interesting to see how strong the messaging was to allow for the possibility that Hill and/or McDonald could be back with the club next season (when does it count as tampering?). It’s hard to envision any scenario wherein Hill is back in Toronto come 2012, but don’t rule out the popular Johnny Mac. McDonald could be a tremendous asset in continuing to mentor Yunel Escobar while also providing guidance to Hechavarria.
- Speaking of Hechavarria, his arrival in Toronto suddenly became imminent and those whispers of a September call-up have become shouts. It now seems near-certain that the 21-year old will bring his major league-ready glove to the Show soon, but what about that bat? People lauding his offensive exploits in Las Vegas seem to have forgotten the hitter’s haven that is the Pacific Coast League, where David Cooper (he of the .121 average over 33 major league at-bats) leads all hitters with a .375 average and .446 OBP.
- Brian Jeroloman may have Travis Snider’s sore right wrist to thank for a call-up, although the catcher shouldn’t be celebrating too much. This could be a ‘thinning out the herd’ call – giving the 26-year old just enough of an opportunity so as to rule him out of any long-term viability with the club. That thinking may sound cruel, but it’s a reality of the nice problem of having too much catching depth. Jeroloman still could pan out, but opportunities to do so in Toronto will be scarce with J.P. Arencibia entrenched behind the plate for now and Travis d’Arnaud and Jonathan Diaz coming up the pipelines.
- Casey Janssen now becomes the team’s longest-serving player, having made his Jays debut back on April 27, 2006.
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Written by Ben Fisher