Aaron Hill

Thinking about the Kelly Johnson-for-Aaron Hill swap


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.

Dbacks trade Kelly Johnson to Toronto for Aaron Hill, John McDonald

Kelly Johnson

It’s being reported — sorry, not sure who got it first; the earthquake has rendered Twitter almost unreadable — that the Diamondbacks have traded Kelly Johnson to Toronto for Aaron Hill and John McDonald.

Johnson is a year removed from a 26-homer, .284/.370/.496 season, though he’s struggling mightily this year. There’s still power — 18 homers — but he’s been all or nothin’ in that regard. And he is neither getting on base nor, apparently, impressing Kirk Gibson all that much. Meanwhile, Hill, a former All-Star with big power of his own, is himself struggling for the second year in a row.  McDonald is basically a throw-in, but he’ll provide some middle infield depth that isn’t Willie Bloomquist.

Hill is subject to club options at $8 million, $8 million and $10 million over the next three years, respectively. Unless he shows that he’s able to hit again, and fast, however, you have to think that the Dbacks will just say forget it and decline them. Then again, they may just want him for a potential down-the-stretch power boost that a change of scenery will give him.  As for the Jays, they just seem to be tired of the guy.

Blue Jays activate Aaron Hill from the disabled list

Toronto Blue Jays infielder Aaron Hill throws during practice at the Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in Dunedin
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As expected, the Blue Jays have activated second baseman Aaron Hill from the 15-day disabled list in time for Sunday afternoon’s game against the Tigers. Mike McCoy was optioned back to Triple-A Las Vegas to clear a 25-man roster spot.

Hill spent a little over two weeks nursing a right hamstring injury before heading out on a minor league rehab assignment last Thursday. He played in two games at Single-A Dunedin, going 1-for-6 with a walk, an RBI, and two runs scored.

The powerful but streaky 29-year-old will return to a poor .242/.265/.290 big league batting line. He hasn’t homered in 68 plate appearances this season and has tallied just nine RBI. The Blue Jays, who currently sit four games back of the Rays and Yankees in the American League East standings, will hope that Hill can get back on track quickly.

Blue Jays expected to get both Jose Bautista and Aaron Hill back Sunday

Jose Bautista
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It sounds like Jose Bautista’s neck injury isn’t serious despite needing an MRI exam, as Gregor Chisholm of MLB.com reports that he’s “expected to ride a stationary bike today” and “will hit tomorrow” before likely rejoining the lineup Sunday.

Aaron Hill is also aiming to be in the Blue Jays’ lineup Sunday, but will need to avoid a setback with his hamstring injury while doing a brief rehab assignment at Single-A.

Hill has been on the disabled list since April 24, whereas Bautista–who leads the league in nearly every major offensive cateogry–has remained on the active roster while sitting out the past two games.

Aaron Hill hitting 15-day disabled list with hamstring issues

Toronto Blue Jays v Boston Red Sox

According to Mike Wilner of Toronto’s FAN 590, the Blue Jays are going to place second baseman Aaron Hill on the 15-day disabled list after Sunday’s game due to tightness in his right hamstring.

The move will be made retroactive to April 20 so that the 29-year-old can return during the first week of May. Of course, that early return won’t happen unless he proves that he’s healthy.

Hill struggled with hamstring problems for a good portion of the 2010 season and was only able to play in 138 games. He still managed to hit 26 homers and has flashed great power potential throughout his career, but injuries have derailed many paths to stardom and this will be Hill’s third trip to the disabled list since 2008. The Jays are likely to rely on Mike McCoy at second base in his absence.

Hill will leave behind a .242/.265/.290 slash line. He has three doubles, no homers and nine RBI in 16 games.