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

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