Will Aaron Hill Have Option Picked Up and be in Opener for Jays?

First and foremost, happy belated birthday to Aaron Hill who turned 29 yesterday!

image courtesy of teeswater.ca

The Jays made an interesting addition to their AAA squad when they recently picked up infielder Chris Woodward. He’s no stranger to the Jays, having been drafted by them in the 54th rd of the 1994 draft and having played 351 games with the Jays.

I say it’s interesting, because Woodward has played 585 innings at 2B in The Show and the Jays may have issues filling that position to start the season. If Aaron Hill isn’t ready to go when the season begins, John McDonald and/or Mike McCoy will likely get the first shot at 2B, but Woodward may become the bench player to take Hill’s spot on the roster to provide the Jays with more infield depth and more options at 2B.

Woodward most recently played 2B in 2009 for the Red Sox (with John Farrell watching) and Mariners, and didn’t make an error in 62 innings of work there.

The funny thing is that John McDonald may actually provide the better bat, so I’m fairly certain that Woodward would become the bench option. It works to the Jays advantage since Woodward hits LHP at the same rate as he hits RHP and he actually does better off-the-bench (career .253/.316/.351) than as a starter (career .239/.296/.368).

Another couple of interesting career stats for Woodward are that he has hit .294/.339/.510 when hitting with a runner on 3B, and also hit .340/.365/.440 with runners on 1B and 3B, indicating that he’s very clutch when he needs to be and can be counted on for good ABs when opportunities for runs arise. Just food for thought that should make Jays fan like him a lot more as a bench option.

Now, why all of the hubbub about the options at 2B and infield additions to the Jays?

Well, Aaron Hill continues to display that he isn’t healthy. Nowhere near healthy, actually. When a player of his caliber and determination is forced to be scratched from a game where he was supposed to be a DH, you know that something is wrong. Although the Jays continuously try to appease fans and tell us that Hill will be fine for the opener, I have to argue that we’ve seen nothing to indicate that this may be the case. I, for one, am not counting on seeing Hill in the lineup to begin the season. If he is, I’m going to be worried that his health may be in jeopordy for a longer period of time in 2011 than it should be. Let him heal to 100%, or close to it, then bring him back in. As he showed in 2010 while playing through injury, it’s just not an effective way of going about things.

We know that Hill’s primary issue is his quad, something that seriously impacts his defensive play as well as his hitting ability. It’s not like it’s something he can avoid using or leaning on during a game, and one quick-twitch movement could result in a more severe injury. I’d rather see a healthy Aaron Hill for half of a season than an unhealthy Hill for a full season, if he makes it through the season at all with the injury. But, he has extra motivation to prove that he is in fact healthy this off season, and it has to be extra-frustrating to be going through this as a result. Hill must prove his worth and health to the Jays by March 31st, or he could stand to lose millions.

Here are the options the Jays are facing in Aaron Hill’s case (information obtained from Cot’s Baseball Contracts):

  • The Jays have until March 31st to decide whether or not they’ll pick up Hill’s 3 options, worth a total of $26 million.
  • If they decide to forego the 3 options as a package, they have until after the World Series ends to decide whether or not they want to pick up his contract at $8 million for 1 or 2 more seasons.
  • If they decide to pick up his contract post-2011 World Series for 1 year at $8 million, he becomes a FA after the 2012 season. If they pick it up for 2 more years at $16 million ($8 million per season), he becomes a FA after the 2013 season.
  • Finally, if they decide to not sign him at all post-2011 World Series, he becomes a FA at that time.

Of note is the fact that if he does play most of the season in 2011, he could wind up qualifying as a Type A free agent due to his power and run driving ability at a weak position.

It seems unlikely at this point that the Jays would want to lock up Hill for 3 more seasons at $26 million. A particular worry would be his last year of the 3, when he would be 32 years old and earning $10 million. As a serious concussion survivor, and multiple leg injuries later (including his current strained quad issues), he is simply too much of an injury risk to pick up the last option.

A more likely scenario has the Jays seeing how the year plays out and deciding whether or not they want to lock him up for 1 or 2 more seasons. Hill definitely deserves the benefit of the doubt that he’ll be able to turn things around, so a 2-year option pick up at $16 million looks to be the likeliest scenario at this point. But, if he continues to have injuries all year long, there’s no telling what the Jays may decide to do.

Hill could always step up and ask to sign a more team friendly extension that would keep him around in Toronto for a good period at a lower cost if he sees the writing on the wall and knows that his injuries may create a fairly small market for him as a free agent. So that’s a possibility as well.

Most Jays fans on boards all over seem to agree that waiting until the end of the season makes sense for the Jays. I agree, but sincerely hope that he can get healthy and back to mashing the way he can. He’s a tremendous asset for the Jays at 2B if healthy, and one that can lead the incoming youngsters alongside Jose Bautista for many years.

Will Aaron Hill have his option picked up and be ready for the season opener? I seriously doubt it at this point on both counts. Could things change quickly if he comes back with a vengance? Sure. All-in-all, however, I’m more hopeful that he’ll return when he can perform as he is capable of and that he’ll be able to stick around through 2013 as a minimum. After all, if he rushes back and has a serious set back, this season, or 2012, could be the final season of his tenure as a Jays player, and that would be a remarkably sad thing for the homegrown leader of the team to go through.

Let’s hope he returns a healthy 2B sometime in April or May and can provide his capable above-average performance at 2B for the majority of the season. If he does that, he could be a serious bargain at $8 million per season in 2012 and 2013, as I indicated in a previous post available here.

I’d be interested to hear what Jays Journal readers – the best Jays fans out there – think about the situation and what the preferences are. Should the Jays be aggressive in keeping Hill around and in getting him playing again, or should thye play if safe on both counts? Or, how about a mix of the 2?

It’s an interesting situation to monitor, and we’ll know at least part of the answer on March 31st, when the Jays are faced with the first deadline.

- MG

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Tags: Aaron Hill Chris Woodward John McDonald Mike McCoy

  • John Havok

    Hill is a tricky situation because even if he provides an average bat, his defense is good enough to provide enough value to warrant an 8 million per year contract.

    The problem with Hill as you referenced in your articles in injury risk. On one side, the risk with Hill at this point more than warrants the declining of the 2014 option for 10 million, but realistically if the Jays are starting to compete for a playoff spot in the 2012 and 2013 seasons, a guy like Aaron hill might be a pretty nice piece to have for that year. 10 million for a GG calibre 2b (assuming he still is GG calibre at that time) with average bat in 2014 will surely be not a bad contract either. If he’s hitting well, he would certainly get more than that on the free agent market and the Jays potentially might not be able to retain him if they’ve declined that option for 2014.
    Things to consider from the Jays POV, who else is going to be around at that time? Will hech be ready to play SS full time? Escobar is currently a free agent after 2013 as well so would be be extended, pushing Hech to 2nd with (hopefully) Lawrie at 3rd? Or is that something that can’t even really be considered since we have no idea if hech will even make it to the bigs and Lawrie can even stick at 3rd. Kind of a “bird in the hand worth 2 in the minors” if you will forgive the pun.
    I think valid arguments can be made for both sides to keep Hill all the way through 2014, and arguements can be made to have that option declined and go year by year until 2013.

  • Steve

    I start getting anxious for the season to begin some time in mid-November, so I understand people who want to see their favourite players go north with the club right out of ST. Idealy, Hill will play 2B in the home opener. But if he’s not ready, the Jays have reasonable options until he is ready and it’s no big deal. Hill’s backups are McDonald and McCoy. Like last year, McCoy is the 25th man and will be up and down between Toronto and Las Vegas. Woodward, IMO, was brought in for depth at Las Vegas when McCoy is in Toronto. As far as Hill’s future. After 2010, there is no way the Jays pick up all 3 years. But Hill should bounce back enough to warrant picking up the 2 year option. ’09 was a huge year for him, but it wasn’t a one-off year. He was a pretty good player before that, which is why the Jays signed him to his current contract well before his ’09 “breakout”. Unless Hill declines even further in 2011, you don’t let Hill go. Collecting draft picks and prospects is good, but you do it in the hopes of getting a player like Hill – and most prospects never make it. As long as you can expect the player to continue providing good value, you keep that player.

  • John D

    Hill started today at 2B…

  • Dan McGee

    I can’t believe people do not have more faith in Hill. Not only will he bat no lower than 5th in the line up, he will have the kind of season that will make 8 million a season a steal. I also sold a stock today that had been languishing for 3 months and it went up 30% after I sold so I don’t know if I would pay any attention to this post. I will however promise to shamelessly post I told you so all year if I am right. I swear. Power hitting second basemen are hard to come by just as much as good stock advice.

    • Dan McGee

      Jays will also pick up two years after the world series. Sorry lost my train of thought.

  • http://jaysjournal.com thevolkster

    I think that Hill will have a subsatntialy better year at the plate after last year and how bad that was. They have made sure that he is fully healthy and they won’t rush and if they think he needs more time at the plate to practice his timing they will start him on the DL.

  • D

    I agree with you that to commit to Hill for three years now is too much of a gamble. What is intersteing today however, is that Bautista has been named the team’s right fielder. We don’t want Encarnacion on third every day so, either they feel that Lawrie is ready, or there is a trade brewing for a third baseman. What about Michael Young?