The 2011 Jays Infield - Second Base and Aaron Hill

Although the first base situation for the Jays is not so clear cut, second base also presents its own challenges. I’m fairly certain we can conclude that Aaron Hill will be manning second base, this is not a real issue. The issue is whether or not the Jays should exercise their option to retain Aaron through the 2014 season, or simply take it year-by-year and hope that they can retain him at a cheaper rate than the $10,000,000 it would cost to use his option in 2014.

No matter what, Aaron Hill will only cost the Jays $5 million in 2011 and therefore will remain a Jay for that entire season.

Just to break down the following years, here are the 2 choices the Jays have in this case – the key being that the Jays MUST decide on whether to use their all-inclusive option (years 2012 through 2014) before the 2011 season begins:

Option 1 – The “all-inclusive” option. The Jays can use their option to retain Aaron for $8 million in 2012, $8 million in 2013, and $10 million in 2014. This would make Aaron a FA after the 2014 season.

Option 2 – Decline the option. The Jays would still have the options to keep Aaron Hill around in 2012 and 2013 at the $8 million dollar rate, but he becomes eligible for FA after the 2013 season.

Comparable contracts:

Chase Utley$15 million in 2012, $15 million in 2013, FA in 2014.

Robinson Cano$14 million club option in 2012, $15 million club option in 2013, FA in 2014.

Dustin Pedroia$8 million in 2012, $10 million in 2013, $10 million in 2014, $11 million club option in 2015.

Ian Kinsler$7 million in 2012, $10 million club option in 2013, FA in 2014.

Brandon Phillips$12 million club option in 2012, FA in 2013.

Kelly Johnson -$2.35 million in 2010, Arb Eligible 2011, FA 2012.

Assessment:

First things first, Aaron Hill is an extremely high quality individual who makes the club better, tries 100% every single day, is now a clubhouse leader, and is a loyal Blue Jay who never voiced any displeasure about being moved down in the lineup during his struggles of 2010. He is a great second baseman defensively, and is one of only 5 second basemen to hit more than 25 HRs in 2010 – the remainder had less than 20.

Although Aaron fought to find his swing all season long, he still maintained a similar walk and SO rate as his previous years (around 40 walks and 85-100 SOs). While looking through his stats, you can see that 2010 looks like an anomaly that looks out of place in his progression. Will he turn it back around and return to a 30 HR 100 RBI guy? I’m not positive, but even a 25 HR and 70 RBI second baseman provides the Jays with above average power and lineup presence in comparison to other MLB teams. So, even if he does not return to 2009 form, Aaron can still give the Jays a competitive edge.

However, when we look through the other second baseman listed above and their salaries, we can see that Aaron would receive more guaranteed money than any other aside from Pedroia. With Aaron’s concussion issues and the severity that such injuries can have, it’s hard to imagine the Jays being comfortable paying Aaron through such a lengthy period at a guaranteed rate. If Justin Morneau and Corey Koskie have taught us anything, it’s that recuperating from a head injury has its challenges and is never a guarantee. One small knock to the head while sliding into second or while diving for a ball in the whole, and Aaron’s season – or even his career – could be in jeopardy.

With that said, the $10 million rate for that 2014 option does seem to be in line with market value. Although it is a high risk offering, the Jays could feel good knowing that baring injury, their situation at a critical position is set and they can concentrate on other matters. Or, they can look at what’s listed above and ask themselves why they should put the pressure on his health when so many second basemen of similar value will be FAs in 2014. There is also the possibility of an internal candidate coming forth by that time, making Aaron a hard contract to  “unload” on the trade market.

This all comes to one major point – do the Jays feel comfortable guaranteeing Aaron Hill $10 million in 2014 knowing his injury could come back to haunt them?

I have a hard time thinking they’ll pick up that option, as it boxes them into a corner that would be hard to get out of and limits their budgeting abilities in the long term. If they get to 2013 and Aaron is doing great, the Jays can still open up the Rogers wallet and hand him what he’s worth at that time. If it’s $12 million instead of $10 million, so be it, but at least they maintain the option of walking away if he doesn’t turn things around year-to-year and will probably have to pay less by then, since Aaron will be seeking a contract at the ripe age of 32 for the 2014 season.

In terms of possible future internal replacements in case of injury, trade, or FA, the Jays have the following options:

Mike McCoy – AAA -  Better suited for utility role, but is a great option as a backup to Aaron.

Brad Emaus – AAA – Played more 3B than any other position in 2010, better suited for 3B, has great OBP and contact.

Ryan Schimpf – LoA – My favorite candidate of the bunch, a young guy in the Aaron Hill mold, has some pop and speed.

Andy Fermin – SS – Surprise 2B of the affiliates in 2010. Makes great contact, but lacks power and speed.

Long term, I see Ryan Schimpf as possibly pushing his way up the ladder and making an impact with the Jays. Whether or not this means that Aaron Hill‘s status with the Jays could be challenged is beyond me, but he seems like the only full time 2B option the Jays have in the minors at this time unless Shane Opitz or Richard Thon – both 2010 draftees – make the switch to 2B.

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Tags: Aaron Hill Andy Fermin Brad Emaus Mike McCoy Richard Thon Ryan Schimpf Shane Optiz

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