End of an Era in Toronto as Aaron Hill and Johnny Mac Head to Arizona


I can’t lie. I had been hoping that Aaron Hill would be moved for a very long time, I just couldn’t think up a scenario that had the Jays gaining enough in return to make a deal happen. I had thought of Kelly Johnson, but figured that if the Jays really wanted him, they’d land him as a free agent. Well, I am now officially confused as to the timing for the Jays, while it makes complete sense for the Diamondbacks who get a ton better on the bench and also throughout their infield defensively speaking.

The immediate thoughts that went through my head when I read about the trade are these:

  • Oh no, Johnny Mac’s time in Toronto comes to an abrupt end!
  • Good luck to Aaron Hill who now gets a chance to prove himself in the playoffs.
  • I bet Doc is pissed in Philadelphia since he could have had Johnny Mac playing behind him while Jimmy Rollins is on the DL.
  • I have to believe that the Jays will either try to extend Kelly Johnson at an affordable rate or actually believe he has a shot to become a Type A free agent who would refuse arbitration. Otherwise, this deal doesn’t make much sense since it would mean that the Jays traded a Type B free agent (if options are declined) in return for another Type B free agent, and added Johnny Mac to the deal.

A Closer Look At Kelly Johnson

Apparently (based on his MLB Radio interview), he almost chose the Jays as a FA in 2009, so you know he’s comfortable with coming to Toronto. He is making $5.85 million this season after avoiding arbitration (he had asked for  $6.5 million, the DBacks had offered $4.7 million). He will be a free agent after this season, and currently  ranks as a Type B free agent although he is right on the border (74.19 rating is the top Type B in the NL for 2B/3B/SS). That rating in the AL would put him right behind Ben Zobrist who has a 75.66rating and would also put him right on the cusp of becoming a Type A. If the Jays believe he could finish the season strong and qualify as a Type A free agent, this would become yet another coup for the silent assassin. If not, he really doesn’t lose much as the Jays are not contending in 2011 and were unlikely to pick up Hill’s options or bring back Johnny Mac who is aging (although he is aging very well!).

Oh, and in case you were wondering, Hill’s Type B status is not nearly assured as he has slipped all of the way from being ranked as a possible Type A free agent in the beginning of the year, to being fairly close to not qualifying as a Type B. Perhaps Alex Anthopoulos saw the writing on the wall and wanted to get “something” back for losing Hill to free agency.

Having said that, I have no idea how those Elias rankings transfer over from league to league. If they remain the same, then the Jays just went from having a possible pending FA rated at 60.84 to having one rated at 74.19. That’s a big upgrade. If they believe 1.5 months of strong play could push him up a level, or that they’re at least assured a Type B draft pick now, then the deal seems to make at least some sense.

That isn’t to say that I believe Kelly Johnson will be a big upgrade over Aaron Hill at 2B. What I can tell you is that the Jays could also be hoping he proves worthy of an extension by the end of the year. If he does, it’ll make things interesting for Jays executives who will face some tough choices.

Kelly Johnson vs Aaron Hill

Aaron Hill, first and foremost, is a great person, a great player, and someone who deserves to be respected as a long time Toronto Blue Jay. Having said that, he also carries huge risks in terms of health. It wasn’t so long ago that he suffered a concussion that knocked him out for quite a long time. As we have seen with Justin Morneau and Corey Koskie, concussions are no laughing matter and can knock out the best and toughest guys on any given day. An awkward fall, a knee to the head while sliding, or a pitch to the head could quickly change things for Hill who would certainly have a hard time avoiding a serious injury if he were to re-injure himself. So, right off the bat, the Jays reduce the injury risk they have at 2B.

Here’s what I can tell you about the differences between these 2 second basemen:

Johnson is a LHB, while Hill is a RHB. The acquisition of Johnson provides even more balance in the lineup  for the Jays as it provides another power bat from the left side.

Hill may have a slight edge in terms of arm strength, while both have very similar range.

Offensivey speaking, I give a slight edge to Johnson, and here’s why; something we have to look at is how long these 2 second basemen have been struggling, because we all know they have! I’ll look at the last 3 years just to get a good feel for the trends.

  • Aaron Hill had his big season in 2009 while he still showed some pop in 2010.
  • Hill 2009: .286/.330/.499, 37 doubles, 36 HR, 6 SB (682 AB)
  • Hill 2010: .205/.271/.394, 22 doubles, 26 HR, 2 SB (528 AB)
  • Hill 2011: .225/.270/.313, 15 doubles, 6 HR, 16 SB (396 AB)
  • Notice a trend? Since the concussion, Hill has been a .270 ish OBP hitter with a very low average and declining SLG. He’s about to reach 30 years of age, so how much longer could the Jays bet on him?
  • Kelly Johnson had his big season in 2010.
  • Johnson 2009: .224/.303/.389, 20 doubles, 8 HR, 7 SB (303 AB)
  • Johnson 2010: .286/.370/.496, 36 doubles, 26 HR, 13 SB (585 AB)
  • Johnson 2011: .209/.287/.412, 23 doubles, 18 HR, 13 SB (430 AB)
  • Not only is Johnson trending much better than Hill in terms of consistent power overall, but he has also maintained a fairly decent slugging percentage even as he struggled with his average in 2011.
  • Overall, which player would you bet on turning things around? The one who has a 9.5% extra base hit rate in 2011? Or, the one who has a 5.4% extra base hit rate in 2011? The one who has a .270 OBP and sub .225 average over the last 2 seasons, or the one who has an OBP above .287 over those 2 years and also had a promising .286 average in 2010?

Many people chalked up Aaron Hill’s 2010 seasons to being unlucky due to his ridiculously low average on balls in play and also to his recovering from his injuries. But, when he turns around and does even worse the next season, what are fans – or the team – supposed to think? How long can they hope that what seemed to be their 2B of the future figure things out? It can’t be forever. But, if they do let him go, it has to be for someone like Kelly Johnson who will either land them better draft picks, or will perform better than Hill may have.

The Reason Arizona Makes This Deal: Johnny Mac

It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if the Diamondbacks actually called AA asking about John McDonald without ever mentioning Aaron Hill. Johnny Mac is the perfect bench player for a team like Arizona who is headed towards the playoffs and needs to hone its wins in late in games with some excellent defensive skills and some great base running. McDonald offers them both and is also as professional and as sure a great clubhouse presence as a team could find in MLB.

I am so happy for both Johnny Mac and Aaron Hill to be on a contending team that is likely to make the playoffs that I don’t really care what the returns were. Who knows, maybe AA also made the deal out of respect for both players, giving them a shot to play when it matters most.

I’ll truly miss having that nice security blanket on the bench and hope he gets a championship.
More to Come

I’m still digesting this deal, as I’m sure everyone else is, so I’ll cut things off here and will add to it in a later post. I’m not ecstatic about it, but it makes a whole lot of sense when looked at closely. Hill and McDonald get a chance to play for the playoffs, the Jays get to evaluate Kelly Johnson first hand while knowing that both he and Hill are their best 2B options for 2012, and each team should get compensation. As far fetched as it may sound today, both Hill and McDonald could wind up back with the Jays in 2012. They weren’t traded because the Jays didn’t like the players, they simply thought it was a good idea to see if Johnson was a better git or not, and that’s alright with me!

– MG

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