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.