Jays Ship Hill to Arizona for Kelly Johnson

The Blue Jays shipped fan-favorite John McDonald and fan-hated Aaron Hill to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Kelly Johnson. Strangely, even though Hill is the only player with a possible contract currently in place for 2012, this deal opens up many possibilities for the Blue Jays and increases their flexibility.

There remains a strong possibility that this trade was made in order to reap the compensation picks that come with losing a free agent. Like the Miguel Olivo trade last year, the Jays have picked up a player on the cusp of Type A free agency. In fact, he’s the highest projected non-Type-A free agent in the National League middle infield, mere percentage points from Type A status. Given the fact that J.J. Hardy signed an extension, Johnson should occupy the same place in the AL structure. Hill has no chance of Type A status.

Even if there’s a high likelihood that this trade will net them better compensation picks, the Blue Jays have increased their options on the field as well. By seeing Kelly Johnson hit in Toronto and face American League pitching, they’ve got the chance to audition him for the role.

They could very well sign the second baseman considering the lack of tenable in-house options they have. Adeiny Hechavarria has loved Las Vegas, but it’s still unclear if he’s got the stick for a regular role in the major leagues and his general manager already said he’d play in Triple-A all of 2012. Brett Lawrie has played second, but he was moved off the position for a reason. There’s one dark horse option remaining. Considering the fact that they may be in line for a significant payroll boost this off-season, the Blue Jays could make a run at Jose Reyes. Yunel Escobar‘s defense has been strong this year, but more based on his arm than his range, so it’s unclear who would move. One thing seems to stick out: of the three best middle infield free agents this offseason, the Jays will have one on their roster the rest of the way.

Why would they give up Aaron Hill, even if this move probably added flexibility to their roster? For one, they save the $1 million buyout since they weren’t planning on exercising the $8 million option they had. And Hill has only been worth $8 million once in the past three years. Both Johnson and Hill have been bad this year, but Johnson’s best years have come more recently than Hill’s, as well.

It might come down to this: If they don’t believe in Hill’s power, which has oscillated in and out in his career, there’s not a ton else that the player can do for them. His fielding has been okay most years, but has been below scratch in two of the last three years. He has 16 stolen bases, but he’s been costing them on the basepaths and his previous high in the category was six. He doesn’t walk, and there’s only so far that not-striking-out can take you.

If Hill’s option wasn’t going to be picked up, getting a player with a better chance at picks is a no-brainer. At the press conference today, GM Alex Anthopolous said he wouldn’t rule out either player returning to the team. John McDondald can be a valuable utility player, and Hill at a cheaper rate might make sense. Both players could return — after they give one last gift to the Blue Jays.

It may not be immediately obvious, but AA made a small but shrewd deal today that saved his team money, increased his flexibility, and increased his team’s chance at good draft picks in the offseason. That’s the sort of marginal improvement you always have to fight for when you’re in the American League East.




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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.

66 Responses to “Jays Ship Hill to Arizona for Kelly Johnson”

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  1. Bret says:

    Perhaps you could even say that it’s the extra 2%?

    +24 Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. Was Hill a PED’s baby??

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    • Spiggy says:

      Doubt it. I think it’s his head in two different ways:
      1) I think the concussion may have messed him up even more than he’s admitted
      2) I’ve read somewhere that him hitting all those home runs that one season has made him try to hit home runs all the time, messing up his swing.

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      • Hanzel says:

        His best season came after his concussion. So A) is out.

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      • Spiggy says:

        Yup, you’re entirely right. Am I just imagining that he had the symptoms appear again later? If so, then sure, just replace 1) with PEDs. This is the Internet, after all.

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  3. Horatio Sancious says:

    I wouldn’t refer to Hill as “fan-hated.” That seems a bit inaccurate.

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    • TheBunk says:

      Yeah, definitely overdoing it. He’s been an offensive disappointment the last couple of years but has played good defense for most of his stay in Toronto and comes across as a pretty stand up individual. He’s also been on a reasonable enough contract to not draw the ire of the fan base.

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    • HillHater says:

      learned fans hate hill…

      toronto sports fans tend to fall in love with a player for a year and continue to love him… no matter how bad he is after that. As long as he’s white (unlike Rios, Wells).

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      • Scott_Hayter says:

        Toronto fans didn’t hate him… he made them sad. Watching him pop up to the infield every 2nd at bat just made us die a little every time, because we really wanted him to be better.

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      • Charlotte says:

        Exactly. I hated watching Aaron Hill, because his struggles were frustrating and sad. But there was no reason to be angry about it – was never blocking anyone or being given chances he didn’t deserve and his salary was totally reasonable.

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      • André says:

        I guess you missed the ovation August 12th. And all the Rios shirts still on at the ballpark. It is better that Rios is off the team. But I miss the way he made everything look so easy. There’s a reason they call him “the oblivious gazelle”.

        Wells’s contract was set to go nuclear, and that’s what I heard most of the haters in the stands mention (even though it hadn’t exactly gone nuclear yet—perception, perception). Hill was making peanuts on an extremely team-friendly deal. I don’t think this comes down to race, and it’s pretty shitty of you to say so.

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    • Bill says:

      Canadians are incapable of hate.

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  4. AndyS says:

    So, good article on why it makes sense for the Jays.

    How the hell does it make sense for the D’Backs??

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    • Mr wOBAto says:

      Hill may bounce back and John Macdonald gives them an actual SS

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    • Larry says:

      I agree, doesn’t seem to be much of an upside for Arizona. Why downgrade at 2nd base and commit more money? They are even in the midst of a pennant race. So the only reasons I see for this trade is the hope that Mcdonald seriously upgrades them at SS or Hill goes back to that 36 HR power (unlikely).

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  5. Allan says:

    As much as Hill was disliked at times this year, I think every Jays fan was rooting for him to return to 2009 numbers. There was nothing unlikable about the guy, he gave his heart for the Jays. Best of luck to him in Arizona, along with Johnny Mac, who everybody loves.

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    • eric says:

      “There was nothing unlikable about the guy”

      his bat.

      +7 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Lyle says:

      Hey, if you guys don’t want Adeiny Hechavarria, we Giants fans would be glad to pitch in for airfare to get him to San Francisco. I just saw him play 4 games in AAA, and not in Las Vegas, and he was outstanding. Incredibly quick hands on defense, and had a great idea at the plate – he was something like 8 for 15 when I saw him.

      He’d be wasted at 2B; he’s a SS. You should bug AA to “make it so.”

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      • Someanalyst says:

        I think AA will have him bump Escobar to 2nd most likely… but only in 2013, since AA has said (for what it is worth) that he intended to keep Hech at AAA for a full season in 2012. If he fails to land a 2B for next year that might change though.

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  6. Frito Bandito says:

    I’d be really interested in seeing how this makes any sense at all for Arizona, too.

    As a Jays fan, loving the potential A type compensation. Too bad about losing Johnny Mac though.

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    • Cam says:

      Johnny Mac’s probably coming back for next season. Aaron Hill is 2000 miles away.

      I’m happy.

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    • Welp says:

      “As a Jays fan, loving the potential A type compensation.”

      Why in the world would Johnson turn down an arbitration offer after the season he just had. Even as a type B, he’s better off taking $6M next year to rebuild his value and hitting a weak free agent market in 2012 at age 30.

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      • Someanalyst says:

        Agreed. But given the Jays situation at 2B, and a thin middle-infield FA market, 1 year of Johnson for $6m while he tries to rebuild value might be the best they can get

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  7. Frito Bandito says:

    I mean, what is it specifically that they see in Hill that makes them think it was worth losing either Johnson or 2 early picks. His swing is all over the place and his defense has declined.

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  8. Scott says:

    They traded last years Aaron Hill for this year’s Aaron Hill.

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  9. J-Lap says:

    Interesting move. What’s Hill’s value for ROS? He’s been available for about a week in a deep 12-teamer and debating grabbing him for Abreu in hopes of catching fire and ousting Bettancourt from my MI spot.

    Really took a hit when Reyes went down…

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  10. sc2gg says:

    While the Jays hitting approach of last year had a very good effect on a number of hitters, Hill was the one that suffered from it the most. Perhaps AA and Towers got together and discussed that maybe the hitting style & coach of their respective teams would just be better for those respective players, instead of their current situation.

    More likely, AA got a call, jumped on the chance, and did what he always does.

    JMac will be back with the Jays later as a coach of some sort, but for now I hope that he and Hill do well for the DBacks and get to enjoy the playoffs.

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  11. JK says:

    Maybe not the fleecing we’ve come to expect from AA, but solid acquisition nonethless.

    Johnson is an upgrade over Hill even right now while both are slumping (.310 wOBA versus .265), and his slump is at least partially BABIP-driven (.257 this year despite 18.5% LD%). Even so, he’s on pace for a 2WAR season. Johnson’s a good bet to improve over his current numbers and put up something close to 3-4 WAR/year in the immediate future.

    He’s certainly a better bet than Hill, and both would likely get similar arbitration awards coming off a down year as Hill makes $5M this year, Johnson just under $6M. They would get nominal raises, likely, after bad 2011 seasons.

    This acquisition can play out in several ways:

    1) Jays extend Johnson relatively cheaply due to his bounceback potential and lack of FA interest in him stemming from his bad 2011 season. Could 3/25-30 do it? Assuming the high end of this range, Johnson could easily represent a 3-4 win increase in overall production for the 2012 Jays compared with 2011, since Hill is below replacement level this year, at a cost of around $10M – a steal and a half.

    2) Jays offer arbitration and Johnson accepts. The Jays get a definite upgrade at 2B for next year with high upside potential due to his low 2011 BABIP for reasonble money (say 6-7M for the 1 season). They can then evaluate Johnson in 2012 and decide to extend him at that point or, if he bounces back and can get a long term FA deal, let him go for picks and fill the 2B position some other way in 2013 (call up Hechavarria or FA then).

    3) Jays offer arbitration and Johnson declines:

    a) Jays resign Johnson, a player they could (would?) have targeted anyway, and they get the exclusivity window
    b) Johnson resigns elsewhere, and the Jays get the comp pick(s).

    All of these result in distinct benefit for the Jays for little risk/cost, either in the form of keeping Johnson for relatively cheap (a definite slight upgrade over Hill and very possible large one) or comp picks that may not have been available had Hill stayed, as he might not hang onto Type B status had he stayed in the AL. Definite winner for the Jays.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  12. everdiso says:

    AA just keeps making Jays fans happy. Especially this one.

    I’ve been preaching to Jays fans everywhere that Johnson was the guy we had to sign as a FA this offseason….and voila, we get him, and we get to dump two useless players in the process.

    I love this move. KJ is a top-10 2B in baseball by most any measure, and Hill has been one of the very worst regulars in all of baseball for 2 years now.

    Another great move by AA.

    Now insert Fielder for Lind and this lineup is ready to crush.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • TK says:

      by what measures? WAR, wRC+ and wOBA place him outside of the top 10. Maybe if you use the past 2 years and weigh them equally (which is stupid) he’s top-10, but this is this biggest exaggeration I’ve seen in my entire life.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • everdiso says:

        Over the past 3 seasons, Johnson ranks 8th in 2B wOBA, and 7th in 2B UZR/150.

        Over the past 3 seasons, Johnson ranks 9th in WAR/150 at 3.3, which is just up from his career 3.2war/150 mark which also ranks 9th amongst all current starting 2B.

        Like I said, Top-10 by most any measure.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Welp says:

        ^”over the past three seasons” is creative language, since 2 of his last 3 seasons have straightforwardly sucked and one has been outstanding.

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      • everdiso says:

        He’s “sucked” so bad this year that he’s 13th in 2B WAR.

        I wish Hill sucked that good.

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      • joser says:

        The “biggest exaggeration I’ve seen in my entire life”? Even if you’re less than 10 years old, which I doubt, this clearly isn’t your first day on the internet, so… really? Heck, I’ve seen bigger exaggerations just today. Here on Fangraphs, among other places. In fact, I’d say your claim is itself a bigger exaggeration than everdiso’s “top-10 2B” statement. Ooh, Pauli-ism!

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      • TK says:

        My guess is that if you weigh recent performance heavier, Johnson falls by the wayside as a top-10 player by any measure. And joser, I’m going to refrain from the usual Fangraphs snarkyness, but the last part of my post was a joke.

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      • TK says:

        Not to mention, Johnson doesn’t rank in the top 10 in WAR this season, the last 3 seasons, the last 4 seasons or the last 5 seasons. Are those not measures? You’re getting a bit cute with this WAR/150 stuff.

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    • jrogers says:

      Fielder for Lind? Why not Fielder in addition to Lind (one 1B, one DH)? Bautista-Fielder-Lind in the middle of the lineup, that’s pretty nasty.

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      • JK says:

        Because that leaves no room for Encarnacion, who has been better a better hitter than Lind over the course of this season, and has an OPS ~.875 since the beginning of June.

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  13. pbjsandwich says:

    i just don’t see how this trade makes any sense for Arizona

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  14. David K says:

    it’s interesting that the DBACKS are the team in the pennant race, yet this article was written from the Blue Jays’ perspective. Why not even devote one sentence as to why AZ might have done this trade?

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  15. mlstarr says:

    I’m a Dbacks fan and I’ve been saying for the past couple of months that we probably wouldn’t pursue Johnson too strongly this offseason because of the lower strikeout approach Towers won’t want to get away from and he’d end up in Toronto on the cheap. However, I didn’t see us shipping away comp picks for added money spent on two backup caliber players. Add our org. to the list of those under the AA spell.

    On the bright side, we should see more playing time for Sean Burroughs to add on to his breakout power year.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  16. Anon says:

    From the DBacks’ perspective, this continues a trend that started last year: get rid of the Ks. They got rid of Mark Reynolds in the off-season, brought in vets who don’t K much like Mora, Bloomquist & Burroughs (although Nady will K some) and then worked with the remaining hitters to quit working so deep into counts and swing early more often – Upton, Young, Montero & Parra have all dropped their K rates significantly (Roberts too but he didn’t have many PAs last year) while Drew’s went up a little but Kelly Johnson’s has actually gone up considerably to a career high 27.4%.

    As a result the DBacks went from leading the league in Ks last year by a WIDE margin (MLB record IIRC) to merely 27th this year.

    Management just couldnt’ stomach his high K-rate.

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    • David K says:

      Much of what you say is true, yet they brought in Russell Branyon at the start of the season anyway. He had a great SPRING, sure, but isn’t he a .230 lifetime hitter with a boatload of Ks (too lazy to look it up now)? Why do teams still get fooled by a small sample size of spring ABs against mostly inferior pitchers, especially for a guy like Branyon with a KNOWN track record? Then, not surprisingly, when Branyon proved his entire career previously wasn not a fluke, he got released.

      I swear the Dbacks are staying in contention with smoke and mirrors this year.

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  17. Snake Charmer says:

    Johnson will be the 2nd starter from last year’s DBacks IF to go to the AL East (Reynolds being the other). Hasn’t hurt Reynolds much but it will be interesting to see how Kelly likes facing CC, Lester, Price, etc.

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  18. gabriel says:

    For the Diamondbacks, the big win here is John McDonald. McDonald’s defence is a huge upgrade over the Bloomquist. While McDonald won’t hit much, Bloomquist is only marginally better at the plate. We see this in their overall WAR – Johnny Mac at 0.7 as a backup, Bloomquist exactly at replacement. Better to do one thing well than none.

    On the question of Hill versus Johnson, I think the Diamondbacks are hoping the change-of-scenery factor will help; and perhaps there is a better chance Hill will bounce back in the desert than Johnson would have while staying put.

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  19. everdiso says:

    “by what measures? WAR, wRC+ and wOBA place him outside of the top 10. Maybe if you use the past 2 years and weigh them equally (which is stupid) he’s top-10, but this is this biggest exaggeration I’ve seen in my entire life.”

    Over the past 3 seasons, Johnson ranks 8th in 2B wOBA, and 7th in 2B UZR/150.

    Over the past 3 seasons, Johnson ranks 9th in WAR/150 at 3.3, which is just up from his career 3.2war/150 mark which also ranks 9th amongst all current starting 2B.

    Last year he ranked #3 in 2B WAR, and even in this down year (the first healthy down year of his career) he ranks 13th in 2B WAR.

    Like I said, Top-10 by most any measure.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Welp says:

      This is why only using averages isn’t always useful. The last three years you have a 0.8 WAR season, a ~1.8 WAR season (below average), and a 6 WAR defensive outlier season.

      It’s like signing a below average player after he has a breakout year, except the breakout wasn’t even last year. It was two years ago. And it was fueled in part by inflated UZR ratings despite DRS and +/- rating him poorly.

      Look, I like the acquisition for Toronto. Bring him back for a single season through arbitration rather having to commit more to lure him out of arb with arizona. But talking up this deal because of draft picks and/or because of johnson’s “3 year averages” is just foolish.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  20. everdiso says:

    His career WAR/150 is 3.2. His last 3yr WAR is 3.3. That’s top-10 in both the past 3 years and in active starting 2B career ranks, too. 3.2-3.3war is worth a top-10 spot in the 2B rankings any year, I believe.

    He’s on a 2.1WAR/150 in this “down” year (the first healthy down year of his career) which is likely an aberration, just like his 5.9war last year was an abberation. But even then, as an aberrational “down” year, he’s still ranked 13th in war amongst 2B this year, barely outside the top-10.

    And as far as this down year goes….he’s still seeing the same amount of pitches (4.08p/pa – 20th in all MLB), he’s still showing the same power (.200+iso), and he’s still drawing walks at a near 10% rate (though 9.1bb% is low for him). His BABIP is the real outlier this year, at .257…down from his .309 career mark. I’d say odds are good he’ll bounce back to his usual levels soon enough.

    And even if he doesn’t bounce back, he’s an averagish 2B still this year….which is a huge step up at the 2B position for us Jays fans of the last 2 years.

    Forgive me for harping on this one but I’ve been preaching for the Jays to get Johnson all year (even when it might have cost as a first round pick to sign him as an FA), and I’m pleasantly surprised and pretty dang happy that AA is on the same page.

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  21. vivalajeter says:

    I’d be surprised if Johnson turned down arbitration. He’ll likely get more money through arbitration than he would on the open market. I can’t imagine teams lining up to sign him, knowing that they’d have to give up their 1st or 2nd round pick to get him. So in my mind, the draft pick compensation isn’t a big reason to make the trade. A more likely reason is that they figured they can lock up a potentially-good 2B for 2012 on a one-year contract.

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    • rdillon99 says:

      Johnson currently projects as a Type B free agent, so the signing team would not have to give up any picks to sign him (the Jays would simply gain a sandwich pick). It is also a very weak class of free agents this off-season for 2B’s, and Johnson is probably at the head of that class. He will attract interest from teams as long as he doesn’t gain Type A free agent status.

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    • Someanalyst says:

      Jays cannot lose here – if Johnson becomes a Type B FA, he declines arbitration and they get either get a sandwich pick or sign him themselves during the exclusivity window (AA is said to be a Johnson fan); if Johnson becomes a Type A FA, he accepts arbitration and the Jays get 1 year of average 2B for ~$6m, repeat the comp pick exercise at the end of next year and Hechavarria is maybe ready then.

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  22. ddriver80 says:

    Johnson is an upgrade from hill, just don’t expect 2009 Hill, or even 2007

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  23. wiener says:

    Nobody that was a real fan hated Hill, we just felt sorry for him. There was time when he was everyone’s favorite player, remember when he stole home for the win against the yankees? I thought he was sliced bread then.

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