Aaron Hill

Thinking about the Kelly Johnson-for-Aaron Hill swap

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Ahhh, the elusive challenge trade.

With just five weeks left in the season, the Diamondbacks and Blue Jays opted to swap second basemen Tuesday.  Toronto received Kelly Johnson and sent along Aaron Hill, also including shortstop John McDonald in the bargain.

That all three players in the trade are free agents-to-be makes it an especially odd deal.  Only Hill is under control for next year, but there’s no way the Blue Jays were going to pick up his options worth $16 million for 2012-13.  The Diamondbacks won’t, either.

So, what’s the motivation for both sides?

– The Diamondbacks are hoping that Hill will get better with a change of scenery and figuring that even if he doesn’t, they’re at least getting a better defensive shortstop in McDonald than they had previously.

– The Blue Jays get to take a look at Johnson to see whether he’ll be worth the offer of a 2012 contract while also positioning themselves to get a draft pick if he leaves in free agency.

Toronto’s side is easier to see.  The Blue Jays were done with Hill, and while he and Johnson are both set to be type-B free agents, it certainly appears that they had decided they weren’t going to risk offering Hill arbitration because, as poorly as he’s played the last two years, there was a good chance he just might take it.  Johnson is someone who intrigues them as a possible 2012 regular, and it’ll be easier offering him arbitration this winter.

McDonald was the extra piece it took to get the deal done.  It wouldn’t be any surprise at all to see him re-sign with the Jays as a free agent this winter.

Arizona is taking the bigger risk.  Johnson has hit just .209/.287/.412 this year, but that’s still quite an improvement on Hill’s .225/.270/.313 line.  Johnson was also far better than Hill last year, hitting .284/.370/.496 to Hill’s .205/.271/.394.  Hill was the vastly superior player in 2009, but that’s a pretty distant memory now.

Defense is interesting.  Hill looked like a legitimate Gold Glove candidate in his mid-20s, but his defense has definitely dropped off the last two years and there was some talk of him moving to third last winter.  Johnson’s defense rates from average to significantly below depending on whom is asked.  For what it’s worth, Baseball Reference’s WAR gives Hill a modest advantage the last two years, while Fangraphs’ data gives Johnson a big edge.

I’m not buying that there’s much of a defensive advantage either way, and I’ve seen enough ugly at-bats from Hill recently that I don’t see him outproducing Johnson the rest of the way.  Still, this could work out OK for Arizona.  McDonald would likely be an upgrade at shortstop from Willie Bloomquist if the Diamondbacks give him a chance to play regularly, and Johnson really was playing terribly of late.  I’d have rather taken my chances with Johnson and surrendered a prospect for a shortstop upgrade, but since the Diamondbacks probably weren’t re-signing Johnson, there’s nothing here to be up in arms about.

Jason Kipnis could join Team Israel for 2017 World Baseball Classic

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 02:  Jason Kipnis #22 of the Cleveland Indians throws during batting practice prior to Game Seven of the 2016 World Series against the Chicago Cubs at Progressive Field on November 2, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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With the 2017 World Baseball Classic around the corner, Team Israel has reportedly reached out to Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis, per MLB Network’s Jon Morosi. Tournament rules stipulate that a player’s roster eligibility can be achieved in one of several ways: they were born in the country in question or hold citizenship/permanent legal residence there (or are simply capable of qualifying for citizenship), or one of their parents was born in the country or holds citizenship/permanent legal residence there.

For Kipnis, it’s the latter. Kipnis’ father, Mark Kipnis, is Jewish. That gives Kipnis the status he needs to suit up for Team Israel, despite the fact that he is a practicing Roman Catholic. He has yet to confirm or deny his participation in the competition.

Fifteen players have confirmed for Team Israel so far, including Mets’ infielder/outfielder Ty Kelly and free agents Sam Fuld, Nate Freiman, Jason Marquis and Jeremy Bleich. Per MLB.com’s Chad Thornburg, eight minor leaguers will also appear for the team. Like Kipnis, at least three other major leaguers are eligible for Team Israel’s roster but have yet to accept or decline involvement in the WBC: Dodgers center fielder Joc Pederson, Mariners infielder/outfielder Danny Valencia and free agent left-hander Craig Breslow.

Rangers to sign James Loney to minor league deal

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - AUGUST 21: James Loney #28 of the New York Mets tosses to first base against the San Francisco Giants during the second inning at AT&T Park on August 21, 2016 in San Francisco, California.  The New York Mets defeated the San Francisco Giants 2-0. (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
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Free agent first baseman James Loney has reportedly signed a minor league deal with the Rangers, per FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman. The deal includes an invite to spring training and a $1 million salary if he makes the major league roster in 2017.

Loney picked up a one-year stint and starting role with the Mets in 2016, slashing .265/.307/.397 with nine home runs in 336 PA. While his numbers were down a hair from the .280/.322/.357 batting line he produced with the Rays in 2015, he provided the Mets with a necessary, if underwhelming upgrade over an injured Lucas Duda through most of the season.

The 32-year-old infielder is expected to have some competition at first base, with at least five other candidates in the mix: Jurickson Profar, Ronald Guzman, Ryan Rua, Joey Gallo and Josh Hamilton. Rumor has it that the team is planning on platooning Rua and Profar in 2017, barring any impressive breakouts or injuries during spring training, though Loney could still provide the club with some veteran depth and a decent left-handed bat off the bench.