Giving Aaron Hill $35 million another misstep for Diamondbacks

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Arizona GM Kevin Towers has mastered the art of buying high and selling low this winter.

In giving Aaron Hill a three-year, $35 million extension on Friday, Towers made another high-risk, low-upside move.  Second basemen have a history of cratering earlier than most, and Hill is going to be 32-34 during the years his extension covers.

Of course, Hill was terrific last season, one of the NL’s 10 best players. However, he has a terribly inconsistent history on offense (Hill has a career OPS of .759, yet he hasn’t actually posted an OPS in the 700s since 2007), and his glovework has gone from outstanding in his mid-20s to above average now. He’ll almost certainly be a below average defender by the time his new deal ends in 2016.

The big problem here is that Hill is going to play this year at 31. His new deal doesn’t kick in until 2014. Contracts of this type for second basemen in their 30s are practically unheard of and for good reason.

According to Baseball-reference, Hill has accrued 21.4 WAR through age 30. Here’s a list of every other second baseman since 1900 to amass between 18 and 25 WAR through age 30 and what they did from ages 32-34, the years Hill’s extension covers.

Jimmy Williams – .195/.257/.235 in 374 AB – (0.7) WAR
Del Pratt – .313/.370/.437 in 1,702 AB – 10.2 WAR
Max Bishop – .271/.433/.368 in 1,053 AB – 8.5 WAR
Red Schoendienst – .293/.345/.403 in 1,688 AB – 9.7 WAR
Bobby Avila – .247/.334/.343 in 1,351 AB – 3.0 WAR
Ron Hunt – .285/.395/.320 in 827 AB – 3.7 WAR
Davey Johnson – .325/.411/.554 in 157 AB – 1.8 WAR
Dave Cash – .227/.287/.280 in 397 AB – (0.7) WAR
Steve Sax – .237/.287/.315 in 710 AB – (0.6) WAR
Bill Doran – .272/.372/.387 in 1,151 AB – 4.9 WAR
Robby Thompson – .217/.307/.340 in 692 AB – 1.7 WAR
Delino DeShields – .221/.329/.340 in 497 AB – 0.2 WAR
Ray Durham – .289/.360/.484 in 1,466 AB – 7.1 WAR
Luis Castillo – .270/.366/.315 in 1,031 AB – 0.9 WAR
Brian Roberts – .244/.308/.340 in 459 AB – 0.1 WAR
Orlando Hudson – .246/.318/.352 in 1,155 AB – 3.1 WAR

The old-timers don’t look so bad. Pratt, who played from 1912-24, sustained no drop-off due to age, and Schoendienst, a late-bloomer as a hitter, ended up in the Hall of Fame. However, of the 11 players here to play in the last 50 years (everyone after Hunt), only Durham maintained his previous level of production at ages 32-34. Most of the rest weren’t useful at all. That’s the tendency with second basemen: once they stop being quality regulars, their lack of versatility prevents them from contributing even as part-timers.

Taken altogether, the average player here produced 3.3 WAR from ages 32-34. The Diamondbacks  are expecting much more than that from Hill after guaranteeing him $11.67 million per year. History suggests they’ll almost surely end up disappointed.

Evan Longoria: “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base.”

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The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.

Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.

Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”

Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.

The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.